A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) -Complete

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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 21 - 3/6/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Mar 06, 2011 4:03 pm

Alien_Friend- Thank you we did as well. We love Maria.

I'm glad Maria is aware of the things Michael is feeling about her.


We are as well. It will be interesting to see how they will react to what they think the other is feeling.... ;) Relationships, eh?

Eva- Lol, so true. Those great men had to have been trained to get there! lol. Yup Julia and Maria understand their guys.

I'm very sure Michael didn't get a lot of those encouragements in his life, so it certainly will make his day.


Yes, it's sad when you think of it; Michael hasn't had much encouragement or praise in his life not even from Max and Isabel. We love Maria; her praise was straight from her heart.

We had fun fishing with Kyle he's a great guy.

mary mary- Thank you, we're so glad you enjoyed fishing with Kyle. We had fun writing it.

Lol, Maggie thought that as a grown up that he didn't need the help. Yes, we're sure that Kyle is totally 'bush proofed." :D

Aww, you're welcome. :)

Natalie36- Thank you! More is coming...:)


Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Two Roswell episode of “A Roswell Christmas Carol”.


Part 21

“Outta my way, woman,” Edward ordered with a smirk.

Michael snorted softly. “Does that actually work?” he muttered under his breath.

“Watch an’ learn,” the older man said just as quietly. He ignored the roll of his wife’s eyes as he gathered the things they needed to get the fish ready for frying.

Julia ushered the others out of the kitchen, giving them room to work. As soon as he and Michael were left alone with the fish he collected a large cutting board and placed it on the counter next to the sink. He motioned to the trash can in the corner as he retrieved a couple of fillet knives. “Grab that trash can an’ put it over here.”

Michael nodded and placed it on Edward’s right side. “What’s next?”

“Third cabinet over, grab one of the large bowls an’ then we’ll get down to business. We’re just gonna fillet the fish not actually clean ‘em ‘cause we’re not gonna cook ‘em whole.” He paused as his gaze moved over the fish. “You know, you fellas oughta have a picture with your catch.”

Michael tensed as he reached for the bowl. “No, I don’t really do pictures.”

Edward took in the taut line of Michael’s shoulders, the undercurrent of tension in his voice and he wondered once again what they were running from. It was the only thing that made sense. Not one of them was a day over 20 if they were even that, which he doubted, but he’d bet his bottom dollar that they weren’t on a road trip to visit a friend.

“You sure? Max did pull in a 36-inch pike.”

“You’d be waitin’ an hour while he prettied himself up for a picture… not worth the wait.”

“Alright, if you’re sure. Shame to let that opportunity pass, but if you’d rather not.” He looked up when Julia nudged him out of her way to get to the cabinet in front of him.

“Don’t give me that look. Move it over or there won’t be any hushpuppies to go with those fish.” She got what she needed and then moved over to the table to mix and roll the hushpuppies for dinner.

He nodded when Michael placed the bowl on the counter and he leaned over to lift Max’ fish out of the first bucket, holding it up as he ran the edge of the fillet knife along its body without touching it. “Northern pike’s a difficult fish to fillet,” he explained, “’cause of the y-shaped bone.” He glanced at the younger man, nodding when he saw that he was paying close attention and taking in everything he was saying. “You wanna fillet around the y-bone.”

Michael stepped closer to him, scrutinizing every move Edward made

“More work, but worth the effort.”

He watched the sure movements of the older man’s hands, noting his demeanor as he worked. His hands were weathered with several small scars that were barely noticeable. The gold wedding band on his left hand showed wear and it told a story of the work he did to take care of his family. He listened to Edward’s voice, noticing the softer tone as he explained every step. It was the kind of voice he probably used to show one of his sons how to do something, he thought. It wasn’t a tone he had ever gotten from Hank. He had gotten help from both Max and Kyle’s dads in the past but he’d never really had a father figure to show him how to do things. It was kind of like a father/son type of thing, he guessed.

Hank had never showed him anything. Well, anything that didn’t benefit him in some way. He supposed that one lesson at the laundry mat on how to operate the washing machine had been a useful thing to know. He could’ve lived without the cutting words and the rough shove that had given him an up-close view of the dryer door. And then there was learning how to mix drinks. Yeah, that had been really helpful, he thought with an internal snort. Nothing like having someone decide that your life was going nowhere before you even understood what that meant.

Edward had the life he hadn’t even allowed to let himself dream of since Maria had left him and the FBI had tried to kill them. The man was tough but he hadn’t seen or heard him being abusive towards his kids… and Julia, the woman had him wrapped around her little finger. He mentally rolled his eyes. Thank God he was in charge when it came to Maria.

Michael stood back when Edward reached for the next fish and he took it when it was held out to him. It was another pike, not quite as large as the one Max had caught. He nodded when Edward motioned to the cutting board and he went through the process he had just committed to memory. A couple of times he stopped to ask a question and he began to relax under the mellow tone in the older man’s voice as he patiently answered his questions and explained different techniques.

“Good job,” he said, glancing over Michael’s work.

“Thanks.” They worked side by side in companionable silence for a while. “So what do you do when you’re not doin’ resort stuff?” Edward was a little shorter than him with green eyes and brown hair, and he was well muscled from what he was certain was manual labor. He was probably close to 40 and his mustache was graying in places.

“I build vacation homes. Good business up here.”

“It’s hard work, huh?”

“It’s honest work,” Edward corrected with a smile, “and most honest work’s hard. But at the end of the day it’s an accomplished feelin’. You do what you gotta do to make ends meet and take care of your family.”

Michael nodded and scratched his chin on his shoulder as he reached for the fish in his bucket. He held the perch up in question. “These little guys are filleted different?”

“Yup.” He reached for one of the perch and showed Michael how to fillet the fish, explaining the differences between the two. “You know, the biggest pike I’ve ever seen off of Lake Tawas was 42 inches. So, your buddy’s fish was pretty impressive, but these perch… prime eatin’. I like ‘em about eight or nine inches myself. Much larger an’ I release ‘em.”

“Yeah?” He smiled slightly, the man’s words making him feel good. Edward wasn’t the kind of guy who gave praise lightly so he knew he could take it at face value.

“Um-hmm. Don’t get me wrong, the pike’s fine for fryin’ but the perch are prime tastin’. So, your buddy Max, you an’ he been friends long?”

Michael nodded and glanced over at Edward’s hands to make sure he was doing it right. For the first time he didn’t feel like the questions were designed to gather information, but simply to make conversation.

Once the last of the fillets were rinsed and laid in the bowl Edward washed his hands and set about gathering all-purpose mix, flour and eggs. He had something else that he shoved in his coat pockets before heading out to the patio to cook the fish in the fish fryer. He came back in for the fish a few minutes later and he grinned at Michael. “You’re off duty now, Michael.”

“You don’t need any more help?”

“The batter’s a state secret,” Julia said with a teasing smile as she joined them. As if she didn’t know what was in that batter after all these years!

*****

As dinner began to wind down Maggie was starting to yawn and even the boys were a little quiet. Edward had just finished telling another of his fish stories and making everyone laugh and their guests seemed to be actually relaxing for once.

“Do you kids have favorite foods for Christmas?” she asked, shaking her head at Edward when he looked at her. She was still certain that their guests would be staying through Christmas and she wanted them to feel at home if they did.

“Anything that’s not green bean delight,” Michael mumbled as he finished off his fries.

“Hey, don’t knock Mom’s cookin’,” Max said as stacked the last of his French fries into a little pile on his plate.

“I don’t like green bean casserole either,” Brian spoke up.

“Peach pie,” Isabel added with a smile.

Kyle sighed and cut his last hushpuppy in half before taking a bite and chewing as his mind went back to two Christmases ago against his will. He could see Tess coming to the table with a dish and feel his own surprise when he recognized the food.

“Is that 3-cheese potato gratin?”

“With bacon on the bottom. Your favorite.”

She had gone back to the kitchen and a few moments later he had excused himself to go after her, leaving his dad and Amy talking about old times. Tess had sliced the turkey with a wave of her hand and he had glanced back at the couple in the dining room before looking at her again.

“Well, so this… this is really, uh… this is really great.”

“Well, I saw a break in the NFL schedule between the 22nd and 24th of December, so I figured…”

“Right. Well, this is the best Christmas dinner we’ve had in a long time. I mean, two guys living alone. We just never really had the Christmas spirit.”


He had gone years eating Meaty Man dinners or going to the Crashdown… basically ignoring everything that everyone else did over the holidays. And then Tess came into his life and showed him what it could be like to have a warm and loving woman in the house again. His mom had left them, his girlfriend fell for Max Evans… he had gotten used to just getting by and she gave him something more. And then she killed it. She had killed Alex and used him to get rid of his body. It would’ve been better to have not had that Christmas.

“What about you, Kyle?” Julia asked when she noticed the faraway look in his eyes.

Isabel reached over and rested her hand over his clenched fist. She knew where his thoughts were and it was just one more reason to hate Tess.

He glanced up at the unexpected contact and his eyebrows shot up at the soft smile on her face. Okay, that was a little odd. “I don’t really have a favorite. I’m good with whatever. Maybe not fruitcake… I hate fruitcake. We got three of ‘em one year an’ we used ‘em for doorstops.” He made a face. “I noticed Big Dave keeps it in stock.”

“Oh, I can’t wait to start working on the Christmas plans with Dayna,” Isabel started, her voice excited. “And Kyle, you’ll help too, won’t you?” It wasn’t really a question and she didn’t wait for an answer. She smiled as she looked at Julia. “Kyle’s the best.”

Kyle glanced at Maria and Liz, shrugging his shoulders and lifting his eyebrows in question. They shook their heads as they shot a glance at their guys. The hybrids all seemed to be a little mellowed out, which was especially curious in Michael’s case.

“So, no favorite food for Christmas, Michael?” Edward asked curiously.

Michael shrugged and glanced at Maggie. “What about you, Princess Maggie? Got any favorite Christmas foods?”

The little girl nodded. “Sometimes Mama makes turkey an’ dressin’.” She made a face at the thought of Mama’s dressing. “I like the mashed taters an’ the candy yams with marshmallows… an’ there’s rolls an’ butter an’ fudge an’ Christmas cookies for dessert.” She paused to take a breath. “Oh, an’ Aunt Connie makes green jello with cottage cheese, pecans an’ candy cherries.”

Edward watched Michael, noting the way he didn’t talk about home. None of them did really, other than the occasional brief mention, but the emotional distance showed on his face for just a moment as each of them talked about their favorite foods. He hadn’t had an easy childhood, but he suspected that Michael’s had been even worse.

Maggie yawned again and Julia could see that in spite of the conversation she was losing the battle to stay awake. She glanced at the clock, noting the time before she announced, “Dinner was wonderful, guys, but it’s been a long day for you fishermen and for the Princess.” She smiled at her husband when the others complimented the fish dinner and as soon as it came out that it was “the best fish they’d ever eaten” Edward’s chest puffed up with pride.

He gave his wife a small smile. “Has to be the secret batter,” he said with a wink at his wife.

Julia just rolled her eyes at him. “Some secret batter,” she teased. “They have it in most of the restaurants here.”

Isabel leaned forward, her voice lowering to a conspiratorial whisper. “Care to share the secret?”

Brian and Eddie looked at each other and laughed. “Whatever beer Dad’s drinkin’ at the time.”

Maria, Liz and Kyle exchanged similar looks of shock. Well, that certainly explained why their hybrids were suddenly so relaxed.

Michael shot a glance at Maria. He leaned in to whisper, “I’m fine. Beer cooks off.” Obviously beer had no effect on him. “How much do you add to the batter?” he asked with interest.

Edward just grinned and shook his head. “That’s actually a common misconception. Only some of the beer cooks off. As for how much beer I use, that depends on how much fish there is to fry. For the family, oh, ‘bout half a beer. For this crew I made twice the batter so I used a whole bottle…” he winked at his wife, “and maybe just a bit more.”

Kyle glanced at Isabel, smirking at her as she hummed under her breath and moved the last few fries on her plate into some sort of design.

Maria was watching Michael, taking in his relaxed posture and the body language that was more open than it normally was.

Liz smiled at Max when she looked up and caught his shining eyes. Yeah, she recognized that look; he was drunk.

Kyle stood up and stretched as he faked a yawn. He rested a hand on Isabel’s shoulder to get her attention. “You about ready to head back to our place? Maggie’s lookin’ about how us fishermen feel so I think we should get goin’.” He nodded at the smile that lit up her features as she looked up at him and he bit back the grin that wanted to surface. Oh, yeah, Isabel Evans was plastered.

“We should help with the dishes first,” Liz said, wondering if Max could keep from doing something that would give them away if they didn’t leave right away.

Julia smiled at her guests as she shook her head. They were visibly worn out from their day outdoors and they had pitched in to help plenty. “No worries, I’ve got this.” She glanced at her daughter. “Maggie, go on upstairs and get your pjs on.”

“Aww, Mama, can Michael read me a story?”

Maria studied Michael’s demeanor, remembering the commotion at the New Year’s Eve party the year before while they had been looking for clues in their search for Enigma. His senses had been seriously out of whack and he hadn’t been subtle at all. She made a face at him when he pinned her with his patented ‘I’m fine’ look.

“Sure,” he said before she could speak up, “if it’s alright with your mom an’ dad.”

That right there was more than enough to tell Maria that he was affected.

“Oh, can he, Mama?” Maggie asked.

Michael gave her a huge smile, showing off his teeth for the first time in months as he whispered loudly. “May I…”

Maggie frowned for a moment before her face lit up. “May he, Mama?” The little girl perked up as she slid out of her chair to hurry upstairs.

“Maggie Stevens, do not run up the stairs.”

“I won’t, Mama.”

Edward noted the nervous looks shooting back and forth between Liz, Maria and Kyle and his curiosity went right back on alert. Just what was going on? He glanced at Julia, wondering if she was seeing what he was seeing as she regaled Isabel with some past Christmas story.

Liz stood up and took Max by the hand, earning her another soft-eyed look. “I’ll go get our coats. Stay here, okay?

“Stay here,” he echoed obediently.

Kyle’s gaze left the other couples and shot to Isabel when she suddenly started laughing about whatever Julia had been talking about. He had hung out with one drunk hybrid but he had been slightly inebriated himself so that wasn’t gonna help him much. He really wasn’t sure how to approach Isabel in this state so he followed Liz and grabbed her coat, coming up behind Isabel and nudging her. “C’mon, honey, I think it’s time for us to call it a night,” he said as he held it up for her.

Maria kept a close eye on Michael once the others had left the house, going down to their cabins and getting Max and Isabel a safe distance from the family in case they did something alien. Thanks to Michael’s big mouth they were stuck until after story time and she only hope that he wouldn’t do anything or start acting weird. It felt like it had been hours since Maggie had gone upstairs and in reality it had only been a few minutes.

“Would it be alright if we go and check on Maggie?” she asked as Julia put the last dish in the dishwasher.

“Sure. Maggie’s usually in her pjs and finished with brushing her teeth pretty quickly.”

Maria stood up. “C’mon, Spa…” She ignored his puzzled look when she caught herself and she took him by the hand, leading him to the stairs and placing his hand on the rail.

Michael half-slapped her hand away with a grin. “I know how to climb stairs.”

She noticed how quiet it was as soon as they reached the landing and followed the light that spilled out into the hallway. She reached the little girl’s room just before Michael and she stepped inside, motioning for him to join her when she saw Maggie curled up in bed. Her eyes wandered around the bedroom, taking in the lavender walls with a white ceiling that was speckled with little stars.

The bed was a white princess canopy that was old but well-cared for and on the matching dresser was a blue dome light with yellow stars that reflected on the walls and ceiling when turned on. Beside it several My Little Ponies were lined up, probably her favorite ones judging by the care taken with them. A lavender comforter was folded at the end of the twin-size bed and the Captain’s princess was lying just under the sheet and blanket with a book under her relaxed hand. Her little chest rose and fell with every sweet breath she took and beside her other hand sat Miss Cindy.

She made a grab for Michael when he crept up to Maggie, but she missed him. “Michael, don’t wake her up,” she whispered.

He shushed her and motioned for her to come over to the bed, pointing at the covers. He leaned over and gently lifted the little girl up so Maria could cover her with the blankets and the comforter. Maggie’s head rolled to the side and she looked at Michael as she stirred.

“My captain,” she mumbled sleepily before falling asleep once more.

Michael stood up and wrapped an arm around Maria, turning her toward the door so that they could leave. He turned the light off and his eyes were drawn upward to the glow-in-the-dark stars there.

“C’mon, Spaceboy,” Maria whispered, leading him out of the room.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 22 - 3/11/11

Postby KindredKandies » Fri Mar 11, 2011 7:41 am

Alien_Friend- Lol, we're glad you liked it. It should be an interesting to see how one +beers in an entire fish fry will affect our hybrids..

We loved the moment between Michael and Edward as well.

We know, all that talk about Christmas food is like reading food porn, lol.

Yes, Kyle hurts; her betrayal of him was cruel. We hurt for him. :(

We're glad you enjoyed the ud. :)


mary mary- Lol, well it's a little different this time. Our hybrids have only been exposed to one bottle of beer +in an entire fish fry. We'll have to see how each of them reacts.

Isabel attacking Kyle? Only if he's stupid enough to set up Chucky the clown and scare her while she's "plastered." lol!

You're right Kyle wouldn't take advantage of Isabel. We showed him your comment. "Buddha wouldn't have to tell me, it would just be so wrong on so many levels."

Thank you for the compliment. We're glad you enjoyed the comment Michael made to Edward about how long it would take Max to get pretty for the camera. We had fun writing that one. :)



keepsmiling7- Yeah Max had that shinning look in his eye didn't he and Isabel was humming at the table and laughing out loud and then there was Michael all in charge and yet so very relaxed. It'll be interesting to see them get back to their cabins. We're glad that you enjoyed the ud. ;)



cjsl8ne- Thank you! We had fun writing the fishing adventure and the dinner, lol. Edward is a good guy and Dad. It was good to see Michael learning from Edward.
We're looking forward to our tipsy hybrids back at their cabins as well. It should be interesting. ;)



Eva-
Lol, does he really think that's true? Poor Michael!!


LOl, you caught this! Michael is definitely living in "Michael land" here. Boys, eh? lol.

We had no idea that Edward's secret batter would relax our hybrids. \When they started behaving more relaxed we asked him what was in it, lol. It should be interesting to see how our hybrids will react under the light influence of the beer, lol. We don't think Liz and Maria will have time for a talk about their men just yet. They'll be too busy trying to keep them from doing anything that brings attention to them being "different." lol.

We agree. We didn't like the whole Jessie storyline as well. Isabel had lost Alex. We didn't see her getting over him is a few months time.

Hmmm, we always' wondered about K&I as well. Kyle was clearly Isabel's confidant, not Jessie. They also share the pain and loss of Alex. It's hard to say...if there had been a S4 would their friendship become more? Love is a mysterious thing. We see their friendship as strong whether it becomes romantic or not. You'll just have to keep reading. :)






Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Three Roswell episode Control.


Part 22

The snowy path to the cabins had been difficult enough to traverse earlier that day when the hybrids had been stone cold sober. The wind wasn’t helping, the occasional gust of wind easily nudging them off of their course until Liz or Kyle reached out to steer them in the right direction again. The night was silent with the exception of the snow crunching underfoot, the sky a light whitish-grey with a full moon that lit their path.

“’m not as drunk as I was last time, Liz,” Max said, giving her that goofy punch-drunk smile that she recognized from the last time he’d been drunk. “Thee, my tongue’th not as numb thith time…” The words were mumbled as he attempted to feel his tongue with his gloved hand.

Liz smacked his hand away, earning her a frown as he repeated the gesture. “Fine, you have no idea where that glove’s been, but stick it in your mouth.”

He seemed to consider what she had said, but after a moment he shrugged and continued. “Lith, can you feel my tongue?”

Kyle rolled his eyes and shifted his weight to keep Isabel going in the right direction. “You know, this was a lot more fun when I was trashed with him.” He stretched to shoot a look at Liz. “Who would’ve thought back when we were datin’ the summer before our sophomore year that six months after graduation we’d be on the run from the FBI an’ luggin’ two plastered aliens around in nearly two feet of snow in the frozen wilds of Michigan?”

“Um-hmm, plastered on beer battered fish.”

“I know! Remember that summer when I finally convinced you to go to a party? Even you had a few sips and it didn’t even phase you.” He snorted. “Yeah, hear that? Your wife can out-drink you, Evans.”

Max just shook his head and grinned. “Least she’s never seen me barf after a beer blast.”

“That’s gross, Kyle,” Isabel mumbled. “You better not do that tonight.”

“What?” He glared at Liz. “You told him about that?” He glanced at Isabel. “Keep it up an’ you’re gonna be on the couch.”

“Max just happened to mention it and I simply… concurred. Besides, you’re the one who announced to an entire crowd the night of that stupid blind date contest that you were gonna go puke.”

Isabel wasn’t following the conversation, stuck on the last thing Kyle had said to her. “Only one of us is short enough to fit on the loveseat… and it’s not me,” she said, lifting her head imperiously. She ruined it a moment later when she started giggling and collapsed against his shoulder. Her voice was muffled as she said, “Kyle has Mickey Mouse sheets.”

Liz pinched her lips between her teeth to keep from laughing at him.

Max started humming and he pushed his wife’s hand away when he opened his mouth and she tried to cover it to keep him from belting out his song. “M-I-C… K-E-Y…”

“M-O-U-S-E,” Isabel joined in.

“Well, it’s been real an’ it’s been fun,” Kyle muttered with a glance at Liz when they reached the path that led up to the honeymoon cabin, “but it hasn’t been real fun. We’ll see you guys in the mornin’.”

Liz smiled and nudged Max to the right. “G’night, Kyle.”

“G’night, Kyle,” Max repeated in a sing-song voice.

Liz let go of Max so she could focus her attention on getting the key in the lock but a moment later the light she had been using changed from white to green and she looked around in confusion. Her eyes widened when she saw the light bulb Max was proudly eyeing and she hurried to shove the door open and slap the light switch for the porch light. She shook her head at him when he looked at her with a frown.

“Don’t do that, Max!”

“You don’t like green? It’s for Christmas.” He reached out to the bulb again. “Want me to make it red?”

“No, I want you to make it normal like it was before.”

“Normal,” he mused as his outstretched hand hovered over the bulb for just a moment. “I think normal’s nice.”

Liz sighed in relief when his hand came away to reveal a plain old white bulb once more. “C’mon inside, it’s cold out there.”

He obediently walked into the cabin but he got away from her again, wandering off while she was locking the door. She made a face at the little rectangular bits of snow he was leaving all over the place as they fell from the treads on the bottom of his boots. He finally stopped in the center of the room, his gaze thoughtful as it moved over the furniture and the wall decorations.

What was he thinking? she wondered. It had been a long day and spending it with the Stevens family and then going fishing with Edward and the boys had probably brought up memories of his parents. She knew it had for her and Maria. Kyle and Maria were both gonna have their hands full tonight, she thought.

“My parents used to be proud of me,” he said finally, his voice low.

“They’re proud of you, Max.”

He shook his head. How can they be proud of me when they don’t even know me? There were so many times that Isabel wanted to tell them. She trusted them that much but every time I said no… reminded her that they weren’t our real parents. It was understandable for Michael to throw that in her face; he had only known Hank so his distrust and suspicion made sense, but I grew up with them, I knew them. They took me and Isabel in and raised us like we were their own, they loved us unconditionally, and I couldn’t let them in.”

Max stared at the wall as he went over the last year and everything that had happened. It was funny… his mind was fuzzy, but at the same time his memory had never been more clear. “When things were fallin’ apart Isabel told them about Tess, that I had gotten her pregnant. All it did was make them suspicious of her. They probably thought she was just tryin’ to protect me.” He crossed his arms over his chest. “When she came back with Zan,” he swallowed hard, “with my son, and I held him in my arms…”

Her stomach twisted nauseatingly when one of the subjects she preferred to avoid suddenly reared up before her. She forced the feelings down, knowing that as much as she hated dealing with them he usually buried his feelings about them because he knew it bothered her.

His eyes misted at the memory and he glanced at her. “Sorry, I know you don’t like to talk about them.”

“No, go ahead.”

He watched her for a moment, his eyes seeming to see right through her. “I wanted to hold onto him and never let him go but I knew I couldn’t. He wouldn’t have been safe with me. At least with another family he has a chance at a normal life. You wonder sometimes, ya know? What kinda people just give their kids up… but sometimes there’s no other choice.”

“Everything’s a choice, Max. The options may not be that great but it’s still a choice.”

He shrugged. “If the FBI hadn’t come after us and I’d kept him…”

She held her breath, scared that he was going to voice one of the questions she didn’t want to think about much less answer. Would they still be together? Could she have looked past the fact that Tess was Zan’s mother? She wanted to think she was above that kind of behavior, but the truth was she didn’t know if she could’ve dealt with seeing the little boy every day and being reminded constantly that Max had been with Tess. It didn’t matter that she and Max had been broken up at the time. It wasn’t like he had cheated on her but it didn’t change the way she had felt when she had seen them together or when he had told her about sleeping with Tess.”

“My parents would’ve supported my decision if I’d kept him and they would’ve loved him just as unconditionally as they loved us. And now they’ll never know their grandson and he’ll never get to know his grandparents.”

She could hear the pain in his voice when he talked about his son and she wished there was some way to make it better for him.

“I would’ve taught him all kinds of stuff,” he said with a sad smile. “I’d have taken him out on the same lake where my dad taught me to fish… my dad would’ve been there too.” He looked down when Liz took his hands to pull his gloves off. “He would’ve loved that.”

“I’m sure he would’ve,” she agreed as she unsnapped the snaps and worked the coat over his arms.

Max draped his right arm over her shoulders. “Ya know, Isabel hated campin’ when we were kids.”

“Shocking.” Liz rolled her eyes as he revealed that not-so-well-kept secret. “Here, why don’t you sit down so we can get your boots off?”

“Okay.” He grinned but continued on past the couch she was trying to guide him to, heading into the bedroom instead and sitting on the edge of the bed.

She shook her head at him and gave him a shove, pushing him over onto his back. He stared at the ceiling while she unlaced his boots and set them aside.

“I think the last time I was drunk was more fun,” he mumbled through a yawn. He laughed quietly. “I beat Kyle when we raced.”

“You and Kyle raced against each other?”

“Um-hmm.” He smiled as he remembered Kyle looking up at him, trying to figure out how he’d gotten on top of that building without a ladder. “I beat him.”

She couldn’t stop the smile at the smug undertone in his sleepy voice. She was grateful when she started rearranging his limbs and he shifted around cooperatively to help her out.

“Hey, Liz?”

She braced her hands on either side of his body as she looked down at him. “Yes?”

“This’ll never be normal, huh?” he said quietly.

“What’s so great about normal anyway?” she asked even though they both knew the answer.

He reached up to cradle her cheek in his hand and his eyes were startlingly clear when he spoke again. “I’d give you normal if I could.”

“We’ll find our version of normal one day, Max. Until then we’ll just take it as it comes and hope for the best.”

“I love you.” He took her hand and tumbled her down to lie next to him. He stared at their intertwined hands, his eyes locked on their wedding rings. “I always have,” he whispered as his eyes slid closed.

Liz smiled and stretched up to kiss him. “I love you too, Max.” Her fingers traced over his sleeping features and she hoped he would sleep peacefully tonight.

*****

Kyle wondered if Liz was having this much trouble with Max as he did his best to corral Isabel one more time. It reminded him of the time his parents had taken him to the county fair when he was a little kid and he had participated in the greased pig contest. Maybe he wouldn’t share that little thought with her, he decided. She wasn’t that happy. He breathed a sigh of relief when he turned her loose inside the cabin. At least now she was contained within four walls.

He got her out of her coat and shrugged out of his own, hanging them up before getting a glass of water and leaning against the kitchen counter as he watched her wander around. She was tapping her chin thoughtfully as she studied the room, taking in the furnishings and making a face at them. He suddenly remembered the prank he had set up earlier and he walked into the bathroom, reaching up to catch the clown when it swung down from the ceiling where he had suspended it. He released the string he had attached it to and wrapped it around the clown, hiding it under his arm as he snuck into his room to hide it.

He walked back into the living area and his mouth dropped open as he glanced around at the changes Isabel had made. The room looked surprisingly like the living room in her childhood home… and nothing like the home she had shared with Jesse for a short time. He took in her appearance as she stood in their newly remodeled living room. She was as beautiful as ever, her long blonde hair falling perfectly over her shoulders. He glanced down at her feet, noticing the trail of melting snow left in her wake.

She was tapping her chin as she glanced around. “Something’s still missing.” Her gaze fell on the empty spot next to the fireplace that had taken the place of the wall furnace.

“It’s not the little water trail you’ve tracked all over the place,” Kyle said.

She basically ignored him as the proverbial light bulb came on. “The Christmas tree,” she said suddenly. “Mom and Dad would have ours up by now. There’d be a wreath on the front door…” she moved to the fireplace and brushed her fingers over the mantle. “The mantle would be decorated with lights and fresh garland and there would be candles lit. Oh, and stockings! There would be stockings hanging from the mantle too.”

Kyle kicked his boots off by the door and went to get a towel from the closet. He followed her around, mopping up the wet spots. “Here, you should take your boots off.”

A wide smile graced her features as she whirled to look at him, grabbing onto his arm when the room spun crazily. “Who’s up for getting a tree tonight?”

“Oh, no,” he said, drawing the words out when he saw the manic gleam overshadow her buzz-bright eyes.

“Oh, c’mon, Kyle, we’ve already got our boots on an’ everything!”

Kyle made a futile wish for a cell phone. Cell phone, house phone, bat phone… whatever. He could call Max for help. Yeah, that’d be a big help. Talk about your happy hybrids. He went into his room and grabbed a pair of socks, unrolling them as he walked back into the living room. “Tell ya what,” he said, deciding to negotiate with his own happy hybrid. “How about we look for a tree in the mornin’, huh? Tonight we can make our stocking and hang them over the fireplace.” The fireplace that would have to cease to exist when morning came, he added silently. There was no reason to take the moment away from her tonight.

Isabel stared at the socks dangling from his hands as he held them up, hoping to entice her to see things his way. All she could see was Jesse’s ugly brown stocking that she had tried to hide on the backside of their tree. While they had been with the Stevens’ earlier and even the night before she could only think of home and how much she missed her mom and dad. They had accepted her, helped and loved her. Home… it wasn’t the house she had shared with Jesse. She looked down at the rings on her left hand and her vision blurred with tears.

“Hey, you okay?” he asked as he tossed the socks on the coffee table.

She swallowed hard and shook her head as she tried in vain to make out the design on her rings. Her thoughts took her back to the day she had gone to Max and Michael to ask permission from them to tell Jesse the truth, to let him in on the big secret. Why had she gone to them? Had Max asked their permission before he blew their cover with Liz? Had Michael ever asked anyone’s permission for… for anything? She knew why she had gone to them and she pushed that thought away, not wanting to face it.

Her mom and dad had viewed her marriage as a mistake and they had almost not attended. How was it everyone around her had seen it? Everyone but her? You did know, her mind whispered and she tried to silence that quiet voice. Unwillingly her mind diverted to the conversation with her mom as she twisted the rings on her finger.

“Don’t. Please don’t try to defend yourself. I ran into Wendy today and she told me that a spot opened up at Emden Pond, which I specifically said that I wanted, and you told her no. And then you go and tell Max, knowing full well that he won’t approve. God, Mom, you’re acting like you don’t want this wedding to happen.”

Her mom had shocked her with her response.

“Maybe I don’t. I thought if I could just slow things down that maybe you’d come to your senses.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re making a mistake, Isabel.”

“A mistake?! I love him.”

“Then date him. Get to know him. You don’t have to marry him, Isabel. Not like this. Not in six months. For God’s sake, Isabel.”


Isabel squeezed her eyes shut. “Who gets married in six months at 18,” she muttered. “Alex…” she looked around, lost. “How is it that we didn’t get to have Christmas together?”

Kyle heard the barely whispered word, sensed the shift in her emotions and he knew where she was going. “Hey, c’mere, let’s get out of those boots and go sit in front of the fireplace.”

She wasn’t even paying attention as he took her arm to guide her over to the loveseat, barely aware of it when he knelt before her to remove her boots. Her mind was already back on the conversation she’d had with her mom about her pending nuptials.

“It hasn’t even been a year since Alex. You graduated from high school without a firm plan for your future. I mean, your brother – look what’s happening with Max. We don’t know. Your whole world has been torn apart. It only makes sense that you would grab hold of the first stable thing that came along.”

“No! That is not what he is to me.”


She nearly knocked Kyle over when she shot to her feet and started to pace around, her steps agitated. “What kind of person am I, Kyle? My mom and dad saw it, Michael and Max saw it… and Jesse, look what he’s had to do for me. I love him, he’s a great guy…” She trailed off, biting her bottom lip to hold the rest of the words in.

“But you’re not in love with him,” Kyle said slowly, giving voice to her thoughts. “Isabel, look, you’re buzzin’ pretty good right now and you can’t rely on what you’re sayin’. Look at Max, he got up on stage and kissed Liz right there in front of all of Roswell radio and half the town.” He made a face. “Okay, maybe not the best of analogies.”

“I’m so tired, Kyle,” she said as she looked around, her heart heavy.

He watched her for a minute, picking up on every nuance in her voice. She was tired. But not just from a busy day. She was tired of running from her past, running from her thoughts, and running for her life. “C’mon, Iz, you’ll feel better after you’ve had some sleep.” He took her hand and led her into her room, gnawing on his bottom lip as he glanced around. “You um, you probably wanna change into somethin’ more comfortable to sleep in.”

She shook her head and weaved slightly as she made her way over to the bed and flopped down.

“No, no, no, no, no,” he said, trying to catch her when she started to lie down. He sighed when she deftly avoided him and made herself comfortable on top of the blankets. “You know you’re on top of the blankets and it’s gonna get cold in here the later it gets, right?”

“You won’t let me get cold,” she murmured sleepily. “You always watch out for me, Kyle.”

“That’s me, Mr. Reliable.” He hooked his thumb over his shoulder. “I’m gonna go grab a blanket for you.” He ran into his room and snatched up his blanket before checking the front door one more time to make sure it was locked. He turned the lights out before going back to Isabel and unfolding the blanket, shaking it out and spreading it over her.

Isabel caught his hand when he leaned over and whispered a good night. “’s your blanket, Kyle.”

He smiled at her slurred voice. “Yeah, Mickey didn’t want you to be cold.”

“Hate bein’ alone.”

“Yeah, that makes two of us.” He looked down at her hand, wrapped securely in his and he glanced back at his lonely room. Neither of them wanted to be alone and it would be freezing in his room by morning. Not to mention the thought of sleeping on the loveseat or the bunk bed wasn’t all that appealing. “Shove over, Evans.”

She laughed quietly and shuffled over, making room for him. He settled in next to her and before long she gravitated towards his warmth, seeking out the comfort of his embrace.

Kyle’s arms came around her in a loose hold as she settled against his side and he smiled when he heard her sigh easily for the first time that night. He grabbed the corner of the blanket and pulled it up higher over them.

“Don’t ever leave me.”

“Never,” he promised as he pressed a kiss to the top of her head and stared up at the ceiling in the near dark. “I could never do that, Isabel.”

“Thanks for bein’ my best friend, Kyle.” She shifted to get comfortable and she closed her eyes as her mind once more retreated to that conversation with her mom. “I wanna go home,” she whispered as she rested her head on his chest.

Her breathing began to even out into the gentle rhythm of sleep and he wished there was a way he could give that to her.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 23 - 3/13/11

Postby KindredKandies » Mon Mar 14, 2011 1:24 am

keepsmiling7- LOL! We're glad you had fun with our "happy" hybrids. When Edward told us what was in the batter we just couldn't help but watch for their reactions in behavior.

Yup, we couldn't resist going back to Blind Date for Max's first time being drunk around Kyle and Liz. We're glad you enjoyed the M I C K E Y mouse song. We had fun writing it but we're not sure that Kyle enjoyed it as much as you did, lol.

Liz and Max do have a lot of sorting through, it will happen its own time. It's hard to remember with all that they've been through that Liz and Max are only 19. Christmas, the season for children is almost here in Tawas Lake. ;)



Alien_Friend- We know, right? . We were so happy to have Isabel confront her feelings for Jessie as well. It's taken some distance from him and her home as well as this down time with just a twist of alcohol for her to see it. Isabel is a tough cookie to crack. We'll see who remembers what in the morning.....

t's funny how normal can seem so boring and uneventful but when it's gone you just crave a piece of it.


So very true.

Lol! we enjoyed writing Max and Isabel in their buzzed states. Max does seem to have fun with the lights

Thank you! We'll see how it affects Michael in this ud. ;)



mary mary- Thank you for the lovely compliment. We agree a lot has happened to them at a young age. It's going to take some time for them to sort things out.

We'll see about K&I's redecorated cabin in the morning .;) Yes, it sure would be cool to be able to decorate like Isabel, lol.



Natalie36- Thank you. We're glad you enjoyed the ud. :)



Eva- Oh yes we agree. Liz and Max have a lot to deal with at 19. So true they should be going out with friends and going to college. Life can have its curve balls.

We're so glad you liked the scene between Isabel and Kyle. It was a challenge to write and we're glad it came off the way we intended . We were so happy to have Isabel confront her feelings for Jessie as well. It's taken some distance from him and her home as well as this down time with just a twist of alcohol for her to see it. Isabel is a tough cookie to crack.



cjsl8ne- Thank you. We're glad you enjoyed the ud. We love Kyle and Isabel. We'll just have to see what happens when they wake up. lol.



Part 23

Maria kept a tight hold on Michael, practically wedging him between her and the wall as they walked back downstairs. He seemed to be particularly amused by her behavior and he was feeling no pain as he once more assured her that he was fine. That had become his mantra since they had discovered what was in Edward’s secret batter recipe. And she could tell that he honestly believed it; he was certain that there wasn’t a thing wrong with him and that he was stone cold sober.

As soon as they reached the first floor he got away from her, shaking his head at her assumption that he was under the influence of what… a beer? Not even that since most of it would’ve cooked off. He wandered into the kitchen feeling good and glancing around to see what he could do to help.

Edward was nowhere to be seen but Julia was at the sink washing dishes and Maria nearly had a heart attack when he made his way over to her, grabbing a dishtowel and a plate from the drain.

“Here, lemme help.” He glanced at Maria with another ‘I’m fine’ look. He dried the dishes and carefully stacked them on the counter one by one, reaching for each new dish as Julia placed it in the drain.

“Something tells me you didn’t get to read Maggie a story,” she said as she rinsed off a pot before handing it to him.

“She was down for the count when we got there,” Michael answered. “Miss Cindy was keepin’ watch over ‘er.”

Maria kept an eye on Michael as he spouted off bits of information in a manner that was just sooo not Michael.

Julia turned around to check and see if there were any dirty dishes or pots and pans that had escaped her notice the first time around. “Did she have ‘Santa Bear’s First Christmas’ book out?”

Michael’s mind went over everything he saw as he repositioned Maggie to tuck her in. “Is that the one with Santa on the front with a polar bear an’ a little girl?” he asked with a grin.

Julia dried her hands off on a hand towel and turned to face her guest with a thoughtful expression on her face. “That’s the book,” she said with a warm smile. “It’s her favorite Christmas story all about a polar bear that’s accidentally separated from his family.” She folded the towel over and hung it on the oven handle. “We’re a close-knit community here; everyone knows everyone. When Tony found out she was having nightmares about polar bears, the same year the boys bought her Cindy, he came over to the house on Christmas Eve dressed as Santa to give her the book.”

“Aww, that’s sweet,” Maria said, her eyes on Michael when he finished drying the last pan and set it aside. Her eyes widened when he moved to lean up against the counter and the hand he stretched out to brace his weight on slipped when he missed the counter altogether.

Maria could feel her nerves stretching thinner with every minute that passed. “Is there anything I can do to help you finish the kitchen, Julia?” she asked as she reached for an unopened bottle of soda on the counter next to Michael. “Maybe put this away?”

“Oh, you can leave that out. I’ll drink it after we’re all finished up in here.”

Michael rolled his eyes at Maria and handed her the pan he had been drying, motioning to the table when she just looked at him. He could see how badly she wanted to roll her eyes at him but for whatever reason she held back and carried the pan to the table instead.

Maria reminded herself of her manners as she set the pan down and turned to observe Michael once more. She was just waiting for the jagged flashes of electricity to start rolling off of him at any minute.

“So, that’s kinda cool about Mr. Tony,” Michael said, keeping the conversation ball rolling when it was obvious that Maria was ready to leave. He had no idea why she was in such a hurry.

“Oh, he was a lovely man,” Julia continued. “It’s been hard on everyone without him here this year.” She smiled at Michael. “Last week she asked me to read it to her and when I got the book out she cried.” Her heart constricted at the memory. “It was good of you to be willing to read it to her. All she talks about is how you’re gonna get her picture to Santa.”

“Which brings us to Maggie believin’ you know Santa,” Edward spoke up from the doorway.

Maria nearly jumped out of her skin, so on edge worrying about what Michael might do or say that she had never heard the man come up behind her. She glanced at Michael when his lazy gaze shot to Edward and she could see the surprise in his eyes as he tried to figure out where the man had come from and why he hadn’t noticed his approach.

Michael’s expression was completely clueless in the wake of Edward’s statement.

Maria cringed at his response. He might just as well have added a ‘huh?’ in there for good measure.

“Edward,” Julia stepped in, attempting to derail her husband.

Edward shot a dismissive glance in his wife’s direction before continuing. “Maggie doesn’t fully understand Tony’s absence. It’s been hard on her so please don’t promise her anything that you won’t be here for.”

Michael jerked when something behind him popped and the soda erupted all over the counter. He grabbed the dishtowel he had been using to mop up the soda that was still foaming as it spread across the counter.

“Michael, it’s been a long day,” Maria said as he rinsed the towel out in the sink. “We should really go.” Preferably before a large, flashing neon sign that reads ‘alien’ starts flashing over your head. “I think that cold medicine you took’s really hit you all wrong.”

Edward was watching them as they got into their coats, Maria smacking Michael’s hands away when he made a fumbling attempt to snap his coat closed, succeeding in doing two of the snaps up wrong before she caught him.

Maria paused, one hand on the doorknob, her right arm around Michael and her fingers clenched around the pocket of the coat to hold him still. “We would never do anything to hurt Maggie,” she said, her tone quiet and sincere. “Or anyone else for that matter.”

He shook his head after they had said their goodnights and headed out the door. “Ya know, if I didn’t know better I’d swear that boy’s drunk,” he said with a glance at his wife.

Julia rolled her eyes. “Edward, some people have a really low tolerance for cough medicine.”

“Um-hmm,” he murmured as he moved to the window to watch the couple make their way down to the cabins, Maria doing her best to support Michael as they clumsily tromped through the snow.

*****

“You wouldn’t see anything like this in Roswell,” Michael commented as they followed the deep footprints left by their friends.

Maria glanced up at the snow that was already falling again and then around at the miles of white fields surrounding them. “No, you wouldn’t.” The rare occasion when snow had fallen on their hometown it hadn’t been anything like this. Well, at least if he started exhibiting symptoms like he had last year on New Years’ Eve, feeling like he was on fire, there was plenty of cold snow around to put out the ‘fire’. She was pulled out of her thoughts when he somehow tripped over the snow or his feet and he pitched forward, his arm around her shoulders ensuring that she went face first into the white stuff with him.

Michael laughed when she bolted up out of the snow as fast as she could get her feet under her and he wasn’t terribly cooperative when she tried to pull him up.

“C’mon, Michael, it’s cold out here… we’ve got hot chocolate and a fireplace waitin’ for us.” She rolled her eyes when he suddenly got to his feet and slung his arm around her shoulders and as she turned them back towards the path she noticed the figure standing at the window up at the house. “Just for the record, our preapproved lie for your behavior tonight is that you have a cold and you took some of my cold medicine. Possibly the whole bottle,” she muttered under her breath.

“Why would I take cold medicine when I don’t catch colds?” he asked, the question logical and delivered with a serious expression.

She stared at him for a moment before shaking her head. “Nevermind, we’ll talk about it when you’re not all…” she waved her free hand over him, “happy.”

They finally reached the front door of their cabin and before she could even attempt to locate the key he pressed his hand over the old lock and the tumbler gave a squeaky protest as it turned. He stepped inside, pausing on the threshold to glance around.

Even in his slightly inebriated state his first thought was for her safety, she thought as she watched him. As soon as he determined that things were as they had left them he made a beeline for the fireplace, crouching down to add wood and arranging it to his satisfaction before waving his hand over it and getting the fire going. He stood up slowly, his gaze moving over the two scented candles on the mantle.

Maria shivered slightly as she closed the door that he had overlooked, already feeling frozen from her dip in the snow and the walk from the house. His expression caught her attention and she smiled when he suddenly grinned.

“Look what I can do,” he said and snapped his fingers. The wick on each candle burst to life, the tips burning brightly with dancing flames.

“That’s impressive,” she agreed.

“I know.” His tone was smug as he rubbed his fingertips over his chest.

Maria shrugged out of her coat and took her boots off, hurrying across the room to the fireplace to hold her hands out to warm them. “Michael, you should get out of your boots and coat. Here,” she turned to him, “let me help you.”

He stood there quietly and allowed her to unsnap his coat, his brown eyes tracking every nuance of her features in the firelight. Her blonde hair shimmered in the flickering light, her emerald green eyes sparkled, and the sheen of something red covered her full, pouty lips reminding him of candy apples at a carnival. He could feel the familiar tug of want and need inside of him as he reached out to cradle her cheek, his thumb brushing over her lips.

He wasn’t expecting the flash when it hit him out of nowhere. A short burst of moments in time, feelings and emotions that gave him more insight into her than he’d had in way too long. That moment just after they had tucked Maggie into bed when her heart had felt full enough to burst. The look in her eyes when he showed off his prize catch. The weight of regret for the distance between them. The moment their first night in the cabin when she had stood up in the bathtub… water running over her body that was perfect in his eyes and the feeling of disappointment later after she’d calmed down from the mouse attack and she’d realized that she had been naked in front of him and he’d walked away from her. “What color is it?” he asked huskily, his eyes locked on her lips.

“Candy apple red,” she answered with a look up at him. It was something he would probably never even notice or ask sober. She recognized the look in his dark eyes and she took his hand, leading him over to one of the chairs. “Okay, Spaceboy, time for you to sit down.”

He stilled her hands when she reached for the laces on his boots, tugging her up and nudging her to the side to sit on the arm of his chair. “We need to get you warmed up,” he said as he leaned over to unlace his boots. He got up and carried his boots over to the front door, dropping them on the rug next to it. “Wanna take a hot bath?”

His mind was not on just a simple bath. It would be so easy to take what he was offering, to push everything else aside and just for tonight be together. But what would tomorrow morning bring? Doubts? Regrets? Would he even remember it? She shook her head. It didn’t matter if he remembered it the next morning or not, there was too much at stake to risk for one night of passion.

“No, I’m too tired for that now,” she said with a shake of her head. “Why don’t I make us some hot chocolate instead?”

He didn’t respond, walking over to the bed and grabbing a blanket off of the end. As he jerked it up it disturbed the air and caused a paper on the nightstand to slide a couple of inches closer to the edge. He braced one hand on the mattress and leaned over to grab the paper, holding onto it as he walked back over to Maria.

Michael shook the blanket out and wrapped it around her shoulders before gently pushing her down into one of the overstuffed chairs. “I can make the hot chocolate.” He handed her the piece of paper. “Keep this safe for Santa?” he asked as he handed it to her.

Maria accepted the paper, watching him walk into the kitchen and wondering how safe it was to turn him loose around appliances. When nothing immediately exploded she glanced down at the paper, carefully unfolding it and smoothing out the creases that ran vertically and horizontally through the center of the picture. Recognizing it, she turned it to the correct angle to get the perspective necessary to see the yellow dog Maggie had hand-drawn on the paper for Michael.

She snorted softly. “Maggie’s adorable and so’s the picture of the puppy she wants for Christmas.” She looked up at him, silently observing him as he watched the timer ticking down on the microwave. “You’re wonderful with her, Michael. You know that.”

The little chime rang, indicating that it had fulfilled its duty and he pulled the door open and pulled out the two mugs of steaming hot water. He added the instant cocoa mix to the mugs and stirred it as he smiled. “She makes it easy.” He glanced around for the bottle of Tabasco sauce he had seen her pick up earlier that day at Big Dave’s, locating it near the stove. He unscrewed the cap and poured a liberal amount into his mug, stirring it again before carrying both of them over to her.

He leaned against the back of her chair, handing her the Winnie the Pooh mug and keeping Tabasco Tigger for himself. He reached for the picture she held, his fingers brushing against hers in a slow caress as he took possession of it. “That little girl’s a fighter,” he said with a touch of pride in his tone. “Reminds me of someone.”

Maria shivered when his breath ghosted across the exposed skin of her neck. “Yeah, she is that,” she said, trying to distract herself. Not an easy thing to do when he was so close and so… open. “The Stevens have a lovely family home,” she said.

“Yeah, they do.” Michael shuffled around the side of her chair to drop down in the one next to her, stretching his long legs out in front of him as he stared into the fire.

Maria turned to look at him, noting the thoughtful look on his face. She could see him trying to formulate a thought into words as he watched the flames dancing merrily in the fireplace.

“Hey, Maria?”

“Um-hmm?”

“I was wonderin’… do you see me in a family like that one day? I mean, like Edward has… he’s a good dad an’ a husband.” He shrugged one shoulder and took a gulp of his hot chocolate. “Whatever.”

“Yeah, of course! Michael, you’re so good with kids! I saw it last Christmas, and it wasn’t just me. Liz and Isabel saw it too.” His jaw tightened as he contemplated her answer and she could see the thought starting to form… the thought that he was unfit to be in anyone’s family. “No, Michael, don’t go there. You’re nothing like Hank.” She took a long drink of her hot chocolate and waited.

His lips thinned for a moment. “He’s not the one I was thinkin’ of.”

Maria shook her head. “No. You’re not Rath, Michael. Yeah, he’s part of your DNA but he’s not who you are. Think about Laurie. You reminded her of her grandpa and not just because of your looks. She trusted you and if you remember, she didn’t trust anyone. But when it came to you… it was different and a lot of that can be attributed to the way you treated her.” She took a sip of her hot chocolate and her fingertip traced over the raised image of the yellow bear. “And have you considered that maybe your creators knew who they chose to mix into Rath’s DNA? Maybe you’ve got the best of both of them at your disposal.”

A slow smile spread across his face. “So, you think my rep’s still intact after that whole Snowflake an’ Santa incident in the elf house?” he asked. “You sure I’m fit for kids?”

She watched him for a moment, certain that he was redirecting the conversation, but letting it go when he tipped his mug up and chugged the rest of his hot chocolate. Her eyes followed him as he got up to go and get the remote for the TV, leaving his mug on top of the set. “Yes, I’m sure,” she said quietly.

Michael dropped back down into his chair and he slouched down comfortably, feeling a little better after hearing those three words. “Wanna watch a little TV ‘fore bed?”

“Gee, I don’t know. Do I get to pick what we watch?” His snort indicated that the answer to that particular question was no. “Uh-huh, so we’re looking at six seconds of this and eight minutes of that?”

Another snort as he reached up to scratch his eyebrow. He frowned when he turned the remote over in his hand and stared at it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Oh, um, nothin’… just, the remote kinda got cracked last night an’ I forgot to have Max fix it today.”

She could see the intent in his eyes as he studied the crack in the plastic casing and before that thought could come to fruition she was up out of her chair, collecting his cup and carrying it along with hers into the kitchen. She was placing them on the counter when his forefinger started to slide along the crease, his brow furrowed. “No, Michael, don’t.”

He lifted his head to give her a winning grin. “Watch me.”

She lunged for the remote and even in his slightly inebriated state he was a formidable opponent and he didn’t want to let go of his toy. She gave it a hard pull and before she knew what had happened they were rolling around on the floor, their push and pull motions sending them towards the kitchen. They struggled for ownership of the remote and fought for the dominant position but in the end it came down to sheer size. She could’ve won the fight for dominance but it would’ve required injuring delicate parts of his body and really, there was no reason to be cruel. She lost her grip on the remote and the quest for dominance when he finally pinned her, sitting on his knees above her as he peeled her fingers off of it.

Michael pulled both of her wrists together and held them in one hand as he held the remote up in the other one, his grin wide and victorious. “Do you surrender?”

“If you promise to let Max fix it in the morning.”

“Terms of surrender?” He shook his head. “I don’t think so.” His face was inches from hers, his body covering hers and she still thought she could control how he was going to deal with the remote? The fate of the remote became inconsequential and all of his senses went on alert as his eyes locked on her red, pouty mouth.

His breathing slowed as he lowered his head, his mouth settling over hers in a kiss that stole her breath. He gently nipped her bottom lip with his teeth before his tongue swept over the tiny bite in a request for entrance.

Maria’s fingers clenched in his iron grasp and she moaned quietly as she granted his request. His hot chocolate and Tabasco sauce flavored tongue swept into her mouth, slowly exploring before tangling wetly with hers. It was so tender and so thorough that when he finally released her mouth she was left stunned.

She stared at him wordlessly when he released her wrists and sat up, leaning back on his heels to fix the remote he held. She watched him as his expression became focused intently on the crack and after a moment he ran his forefinger along the smooth edges, sealing it and removing any evidence that it had ever been broken. She saw the look in his eyes as he moved forward to drop down on his hands again and she wiggled out from under him.

He frowned at her until she shot him a smile and then tossed out a dare.

“Aren’t you gonna try the remote out on the TV? Make sure it works?” she asked to distract him.

Michael stood up, steadying himself on the arm of the chair as he aimed the remote at the TV, shooting a smug grin in her direction when he scanned all 10 channels with ease. He settled on a station airing Hockey Night in Canada highlights and he yawned widely as he dropped down in the chair once more.

Maria could see the day catching up with him, could see the exhaustion in his features that he wasn’t in control enough to try to hide from her. She could see it in the slightly unfocused gaze as he stared at the television, the lack of attention being given to a sport he loved, and the relaxed sprawl of his body.

“C’mon, Spaceboy, it’s late. It’s past time for all good hybrids to be in bed.”

He snorted at that and continued to watch TV even though he had passed watching and was merely staring at the little blurs skating across the screen now.

Maria crossed the room to turn the covers back before going back for him. The last thing she wanted to have to do was try to get the covers out from under him once he hit the bed. She put the fire out before taking the remote from him, not having to work too hard since he didn’t put up much of a fight this time. He gave in after a token protest and she turned the TV off, tossing the remote in her chair and taking his hands to pull him to his feet.

“’m tired, M’ria,” he mumbled sleepily as she got him into bed.

“I know.” She turned away from him as she got out of her clothes and pulled on one of his clean tee shirts to sleep in.

Michael’s eyes were slightly unfocused but they traced over her, taking in the moonlit lines of her body. “So beautiful…” he whispered.

Maria slipped into bed beside him and pulled the covers up over them. “Sleep now, Michael.”

His arm slipped around her to pull her up against him and he buried his nose in her hair, breathing her scent in deeply. “You smell good…”

She lifted her head to look at him, remembering hauling him out of the party the year before when all of his senses had been on overload and he had dared to ask what that stench was.

“Like the apple smell better though,” he whispered.

The apple smell? Her eyes widened at the memory of his economy-sized gift of all-in-one shampoo and conditioner on the double date from hell with Max and Liz. She had actually used every drop of that cheap two-in-one just because he had bought it. She opened her mouth to say something but the comment died on her lips as she smiled at his sleeping features. Her Spaceboy was down and out for the count.
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 24 - 3/18/11

Postby KindredKandies » Fri Mar 18, 2011 10:14 pm

Eva – Thank you. We enjoyed writing sweet tipsy and relaxed Michael.

Their first fib together, lol. Well it got them out of the room and out of the door. It almost felt like a couple moment for them, eh? lol.

It was a while ago that they were as close as this evening. Not everythinh is already like it should be, but with baby steps they're going in the right direction.


Exactly! You so understand where our Candy couple has been and where they are in their relationship. They've only been off of the road and alone for a couple of days. They went through a lot of hard stuff and the last year and a half. There are a lot of things for them to sort out. They need a safe place and time to get through them. ;)

keepsmiling7 – It's hard to remember how old they are because of the stuff they've been through. We feel for them that they can't just be young adults doing the regular stuff.
You're welcome and thank you for your feedback.:)

Alien_Friend – So very true, lol. Edward is a smart guy, nothing gets past him.

I hope Michael does end up getting that family he wants. Everyone can imagine what the worse of themselves could be like but those guys actual had a living and breathing example. No wonder it's hard to shake.


We want this very much for him. We like your insightful observation. It's so true. ;)

Thank you!

mary mary –

Sheese, do you have spy equipment in my house?


I'm not too sure of Angel, but I sure do, lol!

Thank you we enjoyed writing Michael sweet and tipsy. Edward is very observant just like someone else we know, lol. :)


Part 24

It was just a small movement that woke Maria several hours later and she blinked in an effort to focus her bleary eyes. Her hand shot out to find Michael and only came in contact with the warm spot where he’d lain since she had gotten him into bed. The warmth indicated the movement she had felt was recent and it hadn’t taken long for her to wake up once it had registered. She threw the covers back and sat up, brushing her hair out of her face as she looked around for him.

She located him standing by the window, arms crossed over his tee shirt-covered chest as he stared out into the night. The moonlight fell over him, making his face appear as if it was carved in granite. His features had lost the softer expression he had worn earlier, indicating that the alcohol he had ingested had dissipated and he was once more stone cold sober. The cloak of responsibility was once more weighing on him and she knew his thoughts could be on any number of things.

Michael didn’t move, didn’t acknowledge her as she watched him, but he was aware of her steady gaze. His mind was on the van, or better yet, what they were going to do if Kyle was right. As much as he wanted to think that he could be wrong about his assessment the night they had broken down Kyle had a tendency to be right when it came to things of a mechanical nature. He had sounded certain that the engine was done in and if he was right where did that leave them? Engines didn’t come cheap and the van was an older model, considered a classic by some, which would only drive the price up.

“Michael?”

The only indication that he had heard her was the slight shift in his stance.

“Why’re you up?”

He shrugged his shoulders as he continued to stare outside, his gaze roving over the white fields around them. “Don’t know, just thinkin’.”

Maria got up out of bed and walked over to him, hissing at the cold floor and shivering as the cool air in the cabin brushed against her exposed skin. “Aren’t you cold?” she asked, glancing at his bare feet below the frayed cuffs of his jeans.

Michael snorted softly and gazed at her for several long seconds before reaching out to her. “C’mere.” He took the hand she held out to him and pulled her up against him, her back to his front as he pointed outside. “See out there? All that white just seems to go on for miles.” He inhaled deeply as he felt her relax against him. “Stevens Sanctuary, this place is something else, huh?”

She stared outside, feeling a sense of peace settle over her, a direct contrast to the tension she could feel in him. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world would just leave us alone here?”

His only response was a grunt, his mind already busy going over his options and determining what it was going to take to keep them safe. He had to figure it out because failing them… failing her, was unacceptable. He had nearly blown it and put her in unimaginable danger back in October. The few days following their uncontrolled moment of passion in that roadside park had put him in a constant state of fear. Fear for her safety, for what it would mean to them as a group, what it meant to them as a couple that already had enough unresolved issues between them, and the fear that getting her pregnant might come at a cost neither of them was ready or willing to pay.

“I know back in October I really fucked up… when I…”

Maria swallowed hard as what he was trying to say began to sink in. “Michael, we needed each other, and I could’ve stopped you. I could’ve said no.”

He was silent for a while, knowing what his next question was and fearing her answer. His voice was quiet when he asked, “Why didn’t you?”

“Because I love you and I needed to be in your arms.”

Michael pursed his lips as he considered her answer. “And afterward?”

She thought about that, choosing her words carefully before she spoke. “Even though I was due for my period in a day or two, I was scared. Since that day I’ve made sure I always have a box of condoms in my bag,” she said, her tone lighter.

“Yeah?”

Maria turned in his arms and reached up to frame his face in her hands. “Yes. I love you, Michael.” She kissed him, enjoying the heady rush of desire that erupted in her veins. She could feel how much he wanted her, could feel it in his taut body and see it in his expression as she leaned back to look at him. One of her hands slid down over his arm, linking their fingers and pulling him with her as she walked backwards to the bed.

He followed her willingly, settling beside her with his right leg caught between her thighs. Their mouths were fused in a long, heated kiss and their hands were everywhere as they hurried to re-familiarize themselves with each other. As his right hand swept up along her bare thigh and the oversized tee shirt covering her bunched up and brushed against his wrist he pulled back to look down at her. He dragged in several breaths and met her gaze in the moonlight. “Are you sure?”

Her eyes filled with unshed tears at the question, her heart clenching at the memory of hurting him this way. “I love you,” she whispered. “I’m sure.”

He nodded and his furtive gaze shot around the room, looking for her bag or his wallet. He smiled as the moonlight reflecting off of his wallet chain caught his attention. He lowered his head stealing another kiss that left her breathless. “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back.”

He drew back from her embrace but not before she reached for the button on his jeans. Never again, Michael, she thought.

She forced a playful smile, her voice nearly hoarse as she whispered, “I’ll be here.” She watched him as he pulled his tee shirt over his head and in one quick movement stripped his jeans and boxers off. He left his clothes in a pile on the floor and her breath caught in her throat when he stepped into the swath of moonlight that filtered through the window. Her eyes were riveted to his sculpted body as she traced over the hard planes and the hollows dipped in shadow. He was magnificent; a work of art brought to life and she felt that familiar tug of desire.

The metallic whisper of his wallet chain drew her gaze to his hand as he replaced it. “Um, Michael… when did you buy those?”

He looked at her as he slipped into bed next to her, the necessary little packet in hand. “Did you really think I couldn’t find a shower curtain?”

His skin was cold from being out of bed and she wiggled around under the covers to shrug out of his tee shirt. “Here, let me warm you up, Spaceboy.” She rolled on top of him, reveling in the silky strength of his body. Her fingertips brushed along his jaw as she brushed his lips with hers, seeking permission and feeling relief wash over her when his mouth softened fractionally.

Michael’s dark eyes followed her movements as she began to work her way down his body, mapping his chest and abdomen with her lips. Occasionally she would use her teeth to nip at him before soothing the tiny mark with her tongue. His hands grazed over her sides, trailing heat along her flesh as they dragged over her arms and shoulders so he could tangle his fingers in the long blonde waves.

He hissed when she got dangerously close to having him undone and he reached down to haul her back up over him and rolling them over to pin her beneath him. His hand slipped down between them to pleasure her and he was rewarded with her breathy moan.

He reared up to rock back onto his heels as he opened the little foil packet.

“Michael… I’ve missed you.”

His hands stilled as he looked down at her, momentarily motionless as if contemplating her words. He swallowed hard before he spoke. “Missed you too,” he admitted gruffly. He lowered himself over her, his lips skimming over her skin as he inhaled her scent. He detoured slightly to run his tongue over the tight tips that topped the mounds of her breasts before resuming his original path to reach his goal as his mouth once more settled over hers.

He kissed her deeply as his body rubbed against hers, enjoying the feel of her skin against his. This was something that he had missed so much. It was something that would never be theirs as long as their lives continued to be lived on the run. He pressed his face into the crook of her neck as he pushed that thought away, not wanting it to intrude.

Maria’s thoughts were running in a similar direction but the lack of their connection still bothered her. She knew he was still shutting her out that way and it was going to take more than what little beer-induced progress they had made before that was restored between them. Her eyes locked with his, falling back on the most elemental of connections when he positioned himself between her legs.

“So beautiful,” Michael whispered as he entered her.

It had been nearly three months since they had been together this way and their bodies quickly fell into their rhythm. Whispered words, ragged moans, and their bodies coming together were the only sounds to be heard as they quickly reached their peaks. Their breathing was labored as they collapsed and Michael carefully rolled off of her to lie beside her. They stared up at the ceiling as their bodies recovered and he pulled her into his arms when he felt her reach out to him.

A while later he spoke up, breaking the stillness that had fallen around them. “Maggie’s a cute little girl.”

“That she is,” Maria agreed as she shifted to rest her chin on the back of her hand where it lay on his chest.

“Back in October… the few days when we were waitin’ was hell and when you told me that you weren’t pregnant I was relieved, but the weird thing is I kinda felt…” he hesitated and bit his lip.

“Sad at the same time,” she finished his sentence.

His arms tightened around her momentarily. “Yeah.” He shook his head. “It’s stupid to want somethin’ like that with the way things are.”

She shifted up onto her elbow to look down at him, meeting his eyes in the moonlight. The desire to have his own family was strong and even without seeing it there she knew it was something he held close to his heart. “It’s not stupid, Michael.”

“It’s the kinda thing that’s just too risky.” His hand came up to cradle her face and she rubbed her cheek against his callused palm. “I should’ve – “

She pressed her forefinger against his lips to silence him. “You weren’t alone that day,” she whispered. “Just like you’re not alone now. And I’m not just talking about things like that. I think maybe it’s a good thing we broke down when and where we did.” Her eyes traced over his features, still amazed at how intense his stare could be when he focused on her. “We all needed the break and it’ll make it more bearable when we have to get back in that van and leave again.”

He didn’t reply, just tugged her down so that she was lying against him. Whether or not it was a good thing had yet to be seen. A lot was going to depend on what the mechanic told them when they finally got around to checking on it. She fell silent and before long he knew she was asleep, her body comfortably pressed against him and it wasn’t long before he followed her into slumber.

*****

When Maria awoke again the room was filled with bright light streaming in through the windows. She closed her eyes and rolled over, reaching for Michael and coming up empty-handed. She frowned at the feel of the cool sheets and her features scrunched up into an expression of concentration as she listened, finally detecting the sound of the shower running. Right on the heels of that sound came the realization that she could smell coffee.

The knowledge that he had been up long enough for the sheets on his side of the bed to cool, make coffee, and get in the shower had her wondering what time he had gotten up. The fact that he had done all of that was a pretty clear indicator that he was ready to get moving as soon as possible and she sighed in resignation.

After dragging herself out of bed and pulling his tee shirt on again she walked over to the window and looked outside. It had stopped snowing and she wondered how much more had accumulated overnight. She dropped the curtain back in place and made her way to the kitchen, grabbing her mug and frowning at the empty coffee pot.

“Must’ve been a two-Tigger cup pot,” she muttered with a derisive glance at the happy cartoon character etched mid-bounce on the side of Michael’s mug. The empty mug he hadn’t bothered to rinse out sitting next to the empty coffee pot he hadn’t cut off and that was well on its way to burning the last few remaining drops of the dark liquid.

She reached out to turn it off just as the bathroom door opened and she turned to see Michael step out in a cloud of steam, wearing nothing but the towel knotted around his hips. It was the first time in so long that she had seen him in this state in the daylight. Her eyes followed the small droplets of water clinging stubbornly to his skin as one by one they lost the battle with gravity and began the slow descent over his skin to disappear in the towel. He glanced up and the sight of his face, dark eyes watching her and shaggy towel-dried hair framing his face held her gaze.

He gave her a quick good morning kiss, wiping the gawking expression off of her face. “Shower’s all yours,” he said as he crossed the room, his bare feet slapping against the floor and leaving heated footprints that dissipated within seconds.

“What about breakfast, Michael?”

“You bought strawberry pop tarts, didn’t you?” He shrugged and dug out a pair of socks, sitting on the bed to pull them on.

“I see you made coffee.” And then drank all of it, she thought but didn’t say.

He frowned and yanked the sock off again when he felt a string between his toes. That would drive him insane all day. “What? Yeah, but it turned out to be just enough for two Tigger mugs.” He shrugged again and removed the offending string before pulling the sock on once more. “Who knew?”

“Right, well… I’ll just go grab a shower.”

He nodded and went to get a pair of jeans and a shirt, sitting down again to give her room to get her things together. He watched her without her realizing it and when she disappeared into the bathroom he turned to stare at the bed thoughtfully.

Maria’s mind was busy going over every moment of the night before as the hot water washed away the evidence of their union. As wonderful as it had been to make love with him again she missed their connection, missed them being so open to each other. It was something that heightened their intimacy and without it she felt as if an essential part of them was missing.

She made it through her shower in record time, interrupted only once when he pounded on the door and yelled for her to get a move on. She jerked the door open and stuck her head out while she was getting dressed. “What is your hurry?” she huffed.

He pulled the curtains back and gestured to the scenery beyond the window. “Do you see that?”

She rolled her eyes and he continued before she could speak.

“Blue skies, the sun is shining… That means clear roads,” he clarified when she just looked at him.

“I see.” She sat on his side of the poorly made bed and pulled her socks on. “You think the roads are suddenly clear because the sun’s out?”

He leveled a look at her. “I think the roads will be passable and passable roads mean we can get in to check on the van an’ find out when it’ll be ready.”

Her mind went back to what Kyle had told her just the day before. “Michael, you do realize that it might not be ready right away, right?”

“They’re mechanics,” he said with a shake of his head. “Fixin’ broken vehicles is what they do.”

“I’m just saying it might not – “

“C’mon, your breakfast’s ready,” he said when the toaster suddenly released the pop tarts it had been busy warming.

Maria moved to the counter as he dropped the pop tarts on a small plate and slid them down to her. She wasn’t sure how he was feeling but he was making it pretty clear that he didn’t want to talk about it. She broke one corner of the hot pastry off and popped it into her mouth, chewing it slowly. She turned her head slightly when he came up behind her, his left hand resting on the small of her back as he reached around her to fill her mug with coffee.

She smiled. Even though he was in a hurry he had taken the time to make a fresh pot of coffee and warm up a couple of pop tarts for her. She leaned back into his touch and sighed quietly when his thumb stroked over her spine a couple of times before he moved away. It wasn’t anything big but the small touches were enough to tell her what she needed to know. Even though things weren’t resolved between them he felt closer to her than he had in too long.

“We need to get movin’. We need to have another meetin’ before we head up to the house.”

Maria was glad she wasn’t facing him because she rolled her eyes before she could stop herself. Well, she consoled herself, at least we won’t be barging in so he can take over their bathroom.

*****

Isabel wiggled around as she raised her arms over her head to stretch and immediately froze when her elbow impacted with something and a curse broke the early morning silence. “Are Buddhists even allowed to say words like that?”

“I think it’s acceptable when someone tries to shove your nose up into your brain,” Kyle grumbled.

“I’m sure you’re fine.” She rolled onto her side to make sure he was alright. She brushed his hands aside and ran her thumb and forefinger over his nose before pushing against the bridge.

“Somehow I always imagined extraterrestrial probing a little different than this,” he muttered, his tone amused.

“That’s disgusting, Kyle.”

“Tell me about it. Nasal probing just doesn’t sound all that interesting. Although, as a guy who enjoys female companionship none of that alien probing really sounds all that interesting.”

She made a face at him before flicking the tip of his nose with her middle finger.

“Ow!”

She flopped over on her back and glanced out the window. “What’re you doing in here?”

Kyle looked at her, eyebrows lifted in surprise. “You don’t remember?”

“Remember what?” she asked slowly.

She didn’t remember, he realized. It was a golden opportunity and one he might never get again. “You know,” his eyebrows dipped down over the bridge of his nose, “last night. Us, together… you asked me to stay after you got into bed.”

Her eyes widened comically as her hand felt around and she realized they were lying on top of the covers. Her gaze locked on the Mickey Mouse blanket covering them. “You mean we…” No, she was sure she’d remember if they’d done THAT!

“Um-hmm… all night long. Jeez, when you get really into it you’re very, um, vocal.” He gave a yawn when he realized he wasn’t going to be able to control the grin as her mind automatically went in the wrong, yet intentional, direction. “Haven’t slept that good in a long time.” He paused for just a moment. “How ‘bout you?” He bit his tongue hard when she lifted the edge of the blanket to peer down at herself.

Isabel knew he was never going to let her hear the end of it when she realized they were both fully dressed. She had played right into his hands just the way he had known she would. “Couldn’t have been all that memorable if I can’t even recall a single detail,” she said, shoving her elbow into his side.

“Harsh,” he muttered and then grinned. “First the nose and now the ego?” He glanced at her. “You feelin’ okay?”

“Yeah.” She hesitated a moment. “Why don’t I remember anything after we sat down to dinner?”

“Edward’s secret batter?” He nodded when she looked at him. “Yeah, the super secret ingredient’s beer.”

She shot up into a sitting position. “Max and Michael?”

“Oh, the two of them were very happy last night too. Liz and I got you and Max outta there pretty fast. I don’t know how long it took for Maria to get Michael outta the house.”

“So we didn’t do anything suspicious?” she asked worriedly.

“Not really. You did a little redecorating when we got back here last night.”

“What? Why didn’t you tell me to change it back?”

“It wasn’t hurtin’ anybody and no one’s here but us. I figured you could change it back this mornin’ before we head up to the house.”

Isabel studied his expression for several long seconds. “What?”

He shook his head. “You were feelin’ kinda homesick last night and it shows in your makeover of the living room.” He hadn’t tried to get her to change it back the night before because he figured it couldn’t hurt to let her hold onto the illusion a little longer, but now… What if seeing it made her feel worse? He watched her as she threw the covers back and swung her legs over the side of the bed.

“Really vocal,” she snorted as she got up.

Kyle grinned unrepentantly. “You are! It was like sleepin’ next to a buzz saw.”

“I do not snore.”

“I beg to differ.” He got up to follow her into the living room, taking one of her hands in both of his when her shocked gaze had her reaching out to him.

Someone started pounding on the door before she had too much time to process what she was seeing.

“Sounds like Michael’s feelin’ no pain this mornin’,” he muttered. “I really envy the way you guys get drunk and don’t have to suffer the hangover the next mornin’.” He squeezed her hand and nodded at the room. “Switch it back and then go take your shower. I’ll fix us somethin’ quick to eat ‘cause that sounds like his impatient knock.”

Isabel rolled her eyes. “How can you tell the difference?”

He grinned and walked to the front door, leaning back against it, watching as the room transformed before his very eyes. “Hey,” he said when he saw the sadness on her face as she looked at the cabin that was once more in its original state. His body was jolted when Michael pounded on the door again but he held her gaze as he remained otherwise unmoving. “You will see them again, Isabel.”

She swallowed hard and nodded before slipping back into her room.

He waited until he heard the shower come on before he turned and unlocked the door, pulling it open and shaking his head when he saw Maria munching on a pop tart. “Mmm… breakfast on the run?”

“Where’s Isabel?” Michael demanded as he prowled around the room.

“Hey, El Capitan, leave the snow by the door,” Kyle said before Michael could track it all over the room.

Maria shook her head when Michael turned to say something to Kyle and a moment later he returned to stomp his feet on the rug by the door.

“We’re gonna have somethin’ to eat.” Kyle grabbed a box of cereal and poured it into two bowls before putting the milk on the table between them. He dropped a couple of slices of bread in the toaster before going to the refrigerator and grabbing the grape jelly.

“We don’t have time for all this,” Michael grumbled.

“Pop tarts to go is tempting but I’m gonna pass… pretty sure that’d be grounds for divorce in this cabin. And Isabel might just tell you where you and your pop tarts can go if you suggest she have them while we run over to Max and Liz’s cabin.” He looked up from pouring two glasses of orange juice. “I’ll assume that’s why you’re here so early? Time for another meeting?” He nodded when Michael just glared at him. “So, no invasions prior to breakfast? No FBI agents cleverly disguised as little mounds of snow popping up all around us?” He shook his head. “No? Good, then there’s no need to rush.” He sat down and started mixing Tabasco sauce in the jelly, stirring it before spreading it on a piece of toast and taking a bite.

Maria winced as she watched him. Disgusting. The rest of them ate hot sauce in most things but she didn’t care for it. Something that separated her from the others. She ignored that thought and moved to lean against the short wall that divided the breakfast nook from the kitchen.

“So, looks like things went okay last night,” Kyle said as he watched Michael investigating their cabin. He waggled his eyebrows playfully as he nodded at the nosy hybrid. “Guess you took my advice, huh?”

Before Maria could come back with a scathing comment Isabel came up behind him and smacked the back of his head. “Eww, Kyle, not over breakfast.”

Michael turned to face them, observing how easily Kyle and Isabel interacted. She didn’t have a single word of reproach for his choice of breakfast food as she talked with him and Maria. He shook his head and turned to continue his investigation of the cabin, freezing when his gaze caught the Mickey Mouse blanket on Isabel’s bed. His eyebrows lifted in interest as he made another pass through the cabin, surreptitiously scanning the second, smaller bedroom. The top bunk covered with the sheets that matched the blanket on Isabel’s bed but no other blanket in sight. Huh, go figure.

His patience, what little there was of it, was wearing thin as the three of them talked and Maria eventually joined them for a piece of toast, opting for butter and cinnamon instead of the spicy jelly. “We have a meeting to get to,” he said finally.

Kyle responded automatically, bringing his right hand up to salute and smacking himself in the forehead with his spoon. He made a face as the girls burst out laughing and he just grinned at Michael as he wiped his forehead off. “And on that note, I think we should head out for El Capitan’s meeting before he bursts a blood vessel.”

Michael refrained from further comment when that seemed to get everyone up and moving. As soon as the dishes had been rinsed and stacked in the sink he was able to get them into their coats and out the door. He shook his head at them, relaxing when Maria’s hand slipped into his as they took the lead on the walk to the honeymoon cabin.
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 25 - 3/27/11

Postby KindredKandies » Sun Mar 27, 2011 7:37 pm

keepsmiling7 –Thank you, we love writing M&M moments like this and also even when they can be *whispering* a challenge ;)

LOL, what would the gang do without Kyle? We have fun writing him.

Alien_Friend –

I love that Michael and Maria had a good moment. At least they are talking a bit about things. I'm glad Michael is willing to let her in somewhat.


Thank you! Exactly, you understand where they are right now. It's hard to remember after 24 uds that they've only been alone in the cabin for two whole nights after months of strung out running. They've taken a good step forward. ;)

mary mary –Kyle and his lines, eh? lol! We're glad you liked M&M's moment together, we do as well.

Hmmmm, I'd ask Santa about your request to blow the special unit up but he might just put me on the "naughty list." lol. I'll offer up a Christmas prayer for a miracle that the unit never finds them again instead. We can always hope.....

cjsl8ne –Thank you, where would the gang be without Kyle being the buffer between the strung out aliens? He has a gift of using humor when things are not going well for everyone. We love Kyle.

Alien_Friend- Aww, thank you for the sweet note and your understanding that we needed to pull back and take a breather. ;)

Part 25

It was the scent of breakfast cooking that gradually began to pull Max back to the land of the conscious. For a moment he was in his bed back home on a lazy Saturday morning, waking to the fragrant aroma of his favorite breakfast. He could almost Isabel in her room down the hall making enough noise to wake the dead as she tore her closet apart looking for something. Dad muttering about getting a late start to go fishing because his son hadn’t pulled his lazy butt out of bed yet. And Mom, telling Dad to relax and go check his fishing equipment one more time because didn’t he need to rethread something or catch some flies, whatever that meant?

He smiled and rubbed his forehead against his pillow as the sounds of his family moving around, going about their morning routines, suddenly vanished to be replaced by other, similar sounds. He reached up to rub his hands over his face before turning his head to shoot an accusing glance at the alarm clock. Barely after 8am. He resumed his former position as he tried in vain to remember the night before, worried when his memory seemed to have stopped somewhere around the beginning of dinner.

His face screwed up in a grimace of concentration as he thought about the last time something like that had happened. But how could that happen here? he wondered.

In the kitchen Liz was busy making Max’s favorite breakfast, trying her best to stay busy and keep her mind off of the night before. She turned her head to the side, checking on him when he shifted and nodding to herself when he made no further movements. She flipped the sausage patties over and thought about how much she loved him instead. Sometimes it amazed her just how much it could hurt to love someone as much as she loved her husband.

She was chopping the last ingredients for his omelet when she felt him come up behind her to place a soft kiss on her neck.

“Mornin’, Mrs. Evans,” he rasped quietly.

Liz smiled back at him as she moved the smaller frying pan to the back burner. “G’morning.”

“Um, Liz, what happened last night?” He reached up to scratch the back of his head in an attempt to cover his concern.

She forced a teasing grin to her face as she moved around him to drop a couple of slices of bread into the toaster but not depressing the button. “Edward’s secret batter happened.”

Max stopped scratching his neck as confusion played across his face.

“Um-hmm, it’s official, the secret ingredient is beer.”

Her smile was tight as she looked at him. “So, what’s the last thing you remember from last night?”

Max could see the tension draped around her and he said the first thing he could think of that might make her smile. “I remember my fish was bigger than Michael’s.”

Her shoulders relaxed a bit as she laughed at his comment. “You’re funny… and it’s true.” She could sense what was coming next, could see the question building in his eyes and she motioned to the refrigerator behind him before he could voice it. “Would you grab the eggs out of the fridge and I think I saw a mixing bowl under the counter.” She smiled at him. “Find it for me?”

“Sure.”

She went back to chopping while he gathered the things she had requested and her mind slipped back to the night before against her will.

“I wanted to hold onto him and never let him go but I knew I couldn’t. He wouldn’t have been safe with me. At least with another family he has a chance at a normal life. You wonder sometimes, ya know? What kinda people just give their kids up… but sometimes there’s no other choice.”

“Everything’s a choice, Max. The options may not be that great but it’s still a choice.”

He shrugged.


She could still remember the first time he had gotten drunk. He hadn’t remembered anything he had said or done when sobriety had returned but he had been so open and honest that night. When he had regained control once more he had turned to her for answers, wanting to know what he had done while under the influence. She nodded absently when he slid the bowl and eggs on the counter before telling her he was going to go and get dressed. She didn’t want to have to answer those questions this time around so she was doing whatever she could to put it off as long as possible.

She finished making breakfast and slid the plates on the table just as Max came back in after showering and dressing. He grabbed the glasses of juice off of the counter and set them by the plates before taking his seat across from her. He cut into the southwestern omelet, his mouth watering at the savory aroma.

“So… did I use my powers in front of anyone up at the house?”

Liz chewed slowly, taking her time before answering. “Um, no, thank goodness… no.”

Max took another bite, enjoying the flavor as he watched her, noting the tension again. “Liz, you seem kinda tense.” She hadn’t been like this yesterday so it had to be related to last night, he mused. “What’d I do?” His amber eyes pinned her, holding her in place as effectively as a lock that only he held the key to release her.

Before she could answer, or avoid, as he suspected she might do, they were interrupted by a familiar pounding on their front door.

“Nothing, Max,” Liz assured him. “You were you and I love you.”

Max got up to answer the door. That wasn’t an answer and he had every intention of revisiting this conversation when they were alone again. He was reaching for the door when just a snippet of the night before smacked him in the face. My son, I told her how much I miss him. He had done everything in his power to avoid burdening her with that and with just a few drunken sentences he had managed to destroy it.

His hand was just settling on the doorknob and turning it when the door was pushed in. He quickly jumped back at the cold blast of air that entered ahead of their friends and family. As soon as they were in he shoved the door closed against the arctic air and any wishes he had of sitting back down to a quiet breakfast with his wife were ruined when they immediately went their separate ways, moving around the cabin.

Kyle, of course, went straight to the kitchen, nosing around to see what was left. “We came over to get a glimpse at how the other half lives,” he joked.

“Oh, Liz, what is that wonderful smell?” Maria asked as she meandered into the kitchen behind him.

“I made my guy his favorite breakfast.” She took a sip of her orange juice and set it back down before motioning to the plate on the counter by the stove. “There’s some sausage left over if you want some.” She shot a glance at Michael, watching him prowl around the cabin for a moment. “Unless Michael cooked for you?”

Kyle snorted as he grabbed the loaf of bread. “She’s already feasted on Michael’s gourmet handmade strawberry pop tarts. But, hey, I’ll be happy to finish off that sausage if there’re no takers.”

“We just ate, Kyle,” Isabel admonished as she settled into the rocking chair, once again holding the stuffed grizzly bear.

He turned to look at her, noting the way her fingers combed through the short fur on the stuffed animal. He just shrugged and went back to putting his sandwich together, frowning when Maria reached past him to snatch a couple of pieces of sausage. Before he could get a word out Michael stopped so that he was central to all of them.

“We’re not havin’ anymore of these meals with secret ingredients.” He turned his head, looking between Max and Isabel. “The two of you were way too obvious.”

Maria burst out laughing and the glare he shot in her direction only made it worse.

“What’s so damn funny?”

“Michael, you’re the one who made the cap explode off of a bottle of soda when Edward – “

“Soda bottles do that around humans too,” he said dismissively.

“Wait,” Max said before Michael could successfully change the subject, “you used your powers in front of the Stevens?” He scratched the back of his head as he got up from the table again, sending an inquisitive look in his friend’s direction. “Did anyone see you do anything else with your – “

“No one saw anything,” he bit out. “I wasn’t drunk.”

“Look, I know we don’t remember anything from last night – “

“No, Max, maybe you don’t remember anything from last night, but I,” he glanced at Maria, “have perfect recall.”

Maria’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Everything?”

“You used your powers in front of Edward,” Max muttered, sounding agitated. “It doesn’t matter how abstract it was – “

“Back off, Max,” Michael warned, bristling at his tone. “Don’t think you can just suddenly start callin’ the shots and ordering people around again now that you’ve had a little time to decompress.” He looked around, surveying the honeymoon cabin with all of its creature comforts and he shook his head, pushing forward before Max continued with his current thought. “The sun’s out and the roads are clearing. If we can move so can the FBI. We need to find out about the van because we need to get movin’… and we need to know somethin’ TODAY. It’s tactically dangerous to be hangin’ out havin’ a honeymoon when we’re boxed in here!”

“Michael,” Maria said as she came to stand next to him, sliding her hand into his.

“So, what’s the plan, El Capitan?” Kyle asked as he hopped up to sit on the counter and took a bite of his sandwich. “We all head in to the shop?”

Michael shook his head. “No.” He pointed at Kyle. “You an’ me go. Max stays with the girls.”

“Cool.” He glanced at Max, seeing that he was about to argue with Michael. “Good idea, divide up our defense, make sure we’re all protected.” He grinned at Max. “Hey, Reindeer Wrangler, you can help the girls make cookies.”

Isabel had gotten up when the arguing started and she stepped in to give Liz a hand gathering up the breakfast dishes and carrying them to the sink. Maria joined them once she was sure the edge had been taken off of Michael’s temper and she gave Kyle a shove to get him off of the counter. “Go in the other room and keep the two of them from burning the place down.”

“Okay, but if I end up lookin’ like a piece of Swiss cheese you’re gonna be sorry.”

Isabel snapped him with the dishtowel in her hand. “Kyle.”

“Goin’. Jeez, give a guy a minute to get movin’, will ya?” he complained as he dropped down to the floor and crossed the room. He stepped in between Max and Michael and glanced between the two of them, getting their attention as he raised his arms and brought them down again, indicating the strip of floor he was standing on. “This right here? This is my safe area, got it? Neutral zone, Switzerland, whatever you wanna call it, but we’re all gonna play nice for a while, so be good little hybrids and go sit in your separate corners.”

Maria rolled her eyes as she ran the water to wash the dishes but a moment later Isabel had her attention.

“We’ve got a lot of planning to do,” the tall blonde said once Michael was safely out of earshot courtesy of Kyle. “We all know Michael’s in denial about the van; we’re gonna be stuck here for a while and we might as well use our time planning ‘Christmas on the Lake’. The Martin family and their little community have lost someone dear to them.”

Maria and Liz exchanged a look as Isabel’s eyes took on the familiar gleam, her hands folded around the dishtowel and resting against her chin as she looked at something only she could see.

“Think about it,” she said, her tone excited, “we have a chance to make someone else’s Christmas better than our own.”

*****

Edward stood at the living room window, his gaze on the birds flitting around the feeder hanging from a branch in a nearby tree. He took a drink of his coffee as he gaze shifted back to the path that led to the cabins and he watched his guests as they walked up to the house, paired off with just a bit of distance between each couple.

He squinted when one of them pointed and after a moment he was able to make out Liz’ features. His head turned to follow her pointing finger and he shook his head slightly when he saw the hawk his wife had named Hercules flying through the sky, being chased by four crows. The large bird of prey eventually rid himself of his antagonists and landed in a fir tree not far away, surreptitiously eyeballing the birdfeeder below his perch.

He smiled to himself when his youngest son hit the wrong note as he practiced his piano lesson for the day. In the kitchen he could hear Julia cleaning the kitchen and talking to herself as she added to the grocery list. Brian was doing his chores and taking the trash out and within moments he heard the familiar stomp, stomp, stomp of his little girl’s feet on the stairs. His lips lifted at the corners when the faucet in the kitchen sink was abruptly silenced and he looked down as he shook his head, just waiting for it.

“Maggie Marie Stevens, how many times have I told you not to run down those stairs?” Julia called out from the kitchen.

Edward snorted quietly, still amazed at his wife’s ability to see and hear their children when they were out of eyesight and earshot. He turned his head to the side when Maggie pulled up short and looked at him. “Don’t look at me,” he said with a shake of his head. “You’ll get me in trouble with you.” His thoughts shifted to the garage that housed the snowmobiles and the small heated office that doubled as his woodcarving studio. Yes sir, he thought, it’s Christmas vacation… time for a little alone time.

Maggie stepped into the kitchen, biting her bottom lip. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

Julia placed the last rinsed dish in the drain rack and reached for a dishtowel to dry her hands on as she turned to look at Maggie. She knew her daughter well. “Uh-huh, I’ve heard that one before. I think you need a little reminding this time.” She pointed at the chair by the window next to Cindy and picked up the timer off of the stove, twisting the knob to set it for 10 minutes. She didn’t really want to punish her little girl, but she did want her to think about it. “In 10 minutes I want you to tell me why it’s important that you not run up or down the stairs.”

Maggie wiggled around on the seat of her chair, her little legs pumping up and down like she was on a swing set. She leaned in toward Cindy’s chair and whispered, “We got in trouble for runnin’ down the stairs again.” Her head turned to the back door when she heard the doorknob turn and a thump as Brian pushed against it.

“Hey, M, in trouble already?” He made a face at her. “Didn’t you just get up?”

“Mama, Brian just made a face at me!”

Julia didn’t even turn away from what she was doing as she asked, “Brian, did you get all of the garbage outside in the dumpster?”

He watched his sister as he listed off how he had emptied all of the trash out of the bathrooms and the kitchen and dumped it into the dumpster, shooting a triumphant grin at her as he finished.

Maggie crossed her arms over her chest, her legs still swinging as she looked over at Cindy. “Ignore him so we don’t get in trouble again.”

“Haven’t you forgotten something, Brian?”

Brian huffed out a breath that sounded suspiciously like a “Sh – “ but instantly died on his lips when he realized what he had almost said out loud. “Firewood, I forgot to bring in the firewood.”

Maggie lifted her chin and shot an angelic smile at him just as the timer went off. “Mama, can I get down now?” She frowned at the question and after a moment rephrased it and posed it again. “May I get down now?”

Julia tried very hard not to laugh when her youngest corrected herself. “As soon as you tell me why it’s important that you not run down the stairs.”

Maggie watched as Mama finished writing out her grocery list and cut the last few coupons out of the paper. She drew in a deep breath before speaking. “Well… ‘cause I could trip runnin’ up the stairs an’ hurt myself like that time when Eddie left his Lego dinosaur on the steps. Or I could maybe run into someone goin’ up or down the stairs an’ cause an accident.”

She opened her arms to her daughter. “Come here and tell me the last reason.”

Maggie slipped down off of the chair and walked over to Mama to climb up into her lap. She smiled when Mama’s arms came around her and her breath tickled her ear when spoke again.

“And why is it most important that you not run down the stairs?”

She turned herself around in Mama’s arms and gave her a big smile. “’Cause Mama doesn’t want for me to get hurt ‘cause she loves me.”

*****

Edward turned his head as he watched the Scooby gang make their way to the back door just as Maggie came back into the living room.

“Has Hercules had his breakfast yet, Daddy?”

He smirked to himself as he watched his little girl’s reflection in the glass window. She had seen the hawk swoop down and pluck a bird from the feeder, taking his order to go once before and it had upset her and made her cry. He had patiently explained that Hercules was a beautiful bird just like the smaller ones and that was what he had to do to live. Since that day he always warned her when the hawk hadn’t eaten yet. He had made her laugh a little when he had reassured her that every once in a while the hawk’s breakfast got away. “Eddie? Has Hercules had his breakfast yet?”

Eddie stopped mid-chorus of ‘Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow’. “Um, I don’t think so.”

Edward turned to his little girl. “What about you and Miss Cindy? Have you had breakfast yet?”

“Yes, Daddy, before you, ‘member?” she giggled.

He smiled and glanced up when he heard the back door open and after a moment their company came inside. He heard the exchange of ‘good morning’s’ between his wife and the kids and as the conversation turned to the birds outside he looked down at his cooling coffee and turned to go into the kitchen.

“There was a really large bird in the sky when we were walking up,” Liz said, her tone curious. “It was being chased by a bunch of crows. What kind of bird was it?”

Michael nudged her to get her out of his way as he stepped the rest of the way in and turned to shut the door. “Looked like some kinda hawk to me,” he muttered.

“Good answer,” Edward said as he joined them. “Hercules is a hawk. He’s what’s known as a goshawk.”

“What happens if the crows catch the gos… goshawk?” It was an awkward word. She rolled her eyes at Michael when he released an exasperated sigh at her inquisitive nature. “Can they kill it?”

“No chance of the crows catchin’ a hawk. Hercules is a bird of prey, he’s stronger than they are and he’s bein’ harassed.”

“Daddy said if he had his 870 he’d take care of them crows,” Maggie announced as she came into the kitchen behind him. She looked up at Daddy. “What’s an 870?”

Julia looked at her husband reproachfully. “Edward.” Her attention dropped to their daughter. “Maggie, have you brushed your teeth yet?”

She glanced up at Daddy again. “Not yet, Mama.”

She sent her daughter out of the room to brush her teeth just as Eddie’s practice ended in the middle of the chorus. A moment later he and Brian entered the kitchen, shoving each other as they fought for the right to lean in the doorway in what she was certain was supposed to be the cool posture. Brian won the rights to the doorway, slouching down and propping his shoulder against one side. She bit back the urge to roll her eyes when her boys spoke at the same time.

“Hey.”

Maria glanced at Kyle. “What’s an 870? Is he talking about a gun?”

“Shotgun,” Michael said softly as he leaned over her shoulder.

Eddie laughed at Maria’s question and he took a couple of steps forward before Brian could start talking. “Last summer there was this woodpecker that wouldn’t leave his spot next to Mom an’ Dad’s room. Stupid thing would peck, peck, peck constantly at the exterior logs. So this one mornin’ me an’ Brian woke up to this loud BOOM,” he said, nearly shouting the word. “And then there was this blood curdling scream.”

Julia shook her head at her husband’s wide grin as he finished his coffee. The boys were laughing so hard that Eddie couldn’t finish the story so she picked it up for him.

“The short version,” she said to spare the gang any irrelevant and embellishing details the boys might come up with, “is that Edward got up at 5am and used his 870 on the woodpecker while I was still sleeping. So the scream was me waking up to the love of my life standing at the open window in his boxers with his gun pointed outside with feathers falling everywhere.” She filled Edward’s insulated mug with coffee and snapped the lid on before handing it to him.

She leaned in to give him a kiss, shoving the folded grocery list into his shirt pocket before stepping back. She patted his pocket as she looked up at him. “The coupons are folded into the list, so don’t drop them everywhere when you get to the Walmart.”

He rolled his eyes as he glanced down at his bulging pocket. “What’d you do, woman, shove the entire newspaper in there?”

Julia waved him off with a roll of her eyes. “Run along now, Edward. The cupboards won’t stock themselves.”

He snorted and turned to glance around the room, taking in their guests. “Okay, daylight’s burnin’. Whoever’s ridin’ up to the dealership, let’s get a move on.” He pointed at the three guys when it looked like Michael and Max were having some sort of silent disagreement. “That means the three of you,” he clarified.

Michael bit his tongue to keep from arguing, knowing it would only appear suspicious. He looked down when Maria took his hand, squeezing it to get his attention.

“We’ll be fine here,” she said, conscious of Edward’s gaze as he watched them. He wasn’t being as obvious about it as he had other times, but she was aware of it all the same.

“I’ve got shotgun,” Kyle called as he stood up. “Hear that, El Capitan? Shotgun, the window seat, the front seat… it’s all mine.” He glanced at Edward. “So, let’s talk about that truck of yours.”

Maria almost snorted at his comments. He was trying to ease Michael’s tension at having his plan disrupted but he had to know there was no way he’d ever get his desired seat. “Michael, if anything happens Isabel would be able to let you know,” she said quietly.

“Edward,” Julia was saying just as quietly, “it’ll be fine if Max stays here.”

He gave her a look as he shrugged into his coat. “Let’s get goin’ before the wife thinks of anymore errands for me to run today.”

Michael didn’t like it but there wasn’t much he could do about it without making Edward suspicious. He knew Isabel was capable and he didn’t doubt she would do everything she could to protect them if it ever came to that, but two was always better than one. “We need to go check on the van.”

Maria had already known that Edward would win this one. He didn’t know them well enough to leave another man alone with his family. She wasn’t sure he was all that comfortable leaving her, Liz and Isabel with them, but out of the six of them the girls likely presented the lesser threat. She smiled at him when he leaned in to kiss her. “We’ll be fine,” she assured him. “You just go and find out what you need to know.” She grabbed onto his collar to bring him closer for another quick kiss. “And you be careful, understand?”

A slight smirk caused his lips to twitch and he nodded. “Be back soon.”

The guys followed Edward outside to the truck that he had already warmed up and Michael reached for Kyle, grabbing a handful of his coat when he started to slide into the front seat. “Wrong, Valenti.”

Kyle shrugged. “Hey, it was worth a try.”

“Be right back,” Edward said as he turned to walk back up to the house.

Michael grabbed Kyle by the collar when he tried to slide into the backseat. “Now what? Do you want me to ride in the bed of the truck?”

“Max will sit behind the drivers’ seat.”

“Why? So he can put the Vulcan death pinch on Edward if he does somethin’ weird?” He held his hands up when Michael just glared at him. “Fine, fine, take whatever seat you guys want. I’ll just take whatever’s left over. And if it’s inside that’d be great. I don’t think I’d look that great as an ice sculpture.”

“You’re hilarious, Valenti,” Michael growled.

Max rolled his eyes and slid inside just as Edward came back out holding his insulated mug. It was pointless to argue with Michael over seating arrangements. He would get his way with or without an argument and it was better to keep things low-key if possible.

Michael shut his door just as Edward slid in behind the wheel and for a moment they looked at each other. He looked down when the man held his hand out, presenting him with a cell phone.

“Julia wanted you to take her phone with you since I’ll be makin’ a run to the Walmart while you guys are talkin’ to Dean about your van. I won’t be gone long, just pickin’ up a few groceries, but I’m sure the three of you will be fine at the shop until I get back.”

Michael stared down at the phone in his hand. Was it safe for Edward to leave them alone? What if the grocery run was a ruse? The government could probably track cell phones. What if he left them at the shop knowing someone was coming for them? “One of us could go with you, give you a hand,” he offered.

“Yeah,” Kyle said, following Michael’s lead as he hung over the front seat. “Max here, he’s a great bagboy. Knows how to pack a grocery sack like no one I’ve ever seen.”

Max gave him a sharp smack across the back of his head, earning him a reproachful look as Kyle leaned back, rubbing the offended area.

“You know, if I’d happened to turn right then you could’ve put my eye out.”

Edward snorted as he put the truck in gear. “Thanks, but I think I can handle a few groceries. If you guys get finished up with Dean there’s a little waitin’ area at the dealership where you can get a cup of coffee and read a magazine. Two people makin’ a run for what I’ve gotta pick up would be a waste and you guys will probably have plenty of questions for Dean. We’ll be back in no time,” he said with a smile as he pulled out of the driveway and onto the old highway.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 26 - 4/1/11

Postby KindredKandies » Fri Apr 01, 2011 1:01 pm

mary mary – Lol, so you want to make the Special Unit go "BOOM!", eh? Well, I'm sure Michael would agree with you. But he's not in a position to make it happen. As for what happens next we hope you'll continue to read. ;)

Alien_Friend – Oh, thank you, we're glad to be back. :)

Gosh, Michael thinks about everything. I forget sometimes that they are on the run so it's all valid concerns. Not a fun way to live for any of them.


Exactly right! You so get where Michael's head is at and where they all are. Yes, Edward is something else, eh?

We think it was a good thing that Max was tipsy enough to tell the woman that he loves just how much he loves and misses his son. We think this is a good thing as much as it hurt Liz to hear it. It'll help open the door for dialog about heir issues and begin the healing process if and when they're brave enough to sort through their feelings. In the end we think it'll make them stronger as a couple.

Eva – Isn't that the truth? Yes, Michael is very tense we believe if he wasn't shouldering the gang's safety alone he wouldn't be so edgy. As for Edward he's doing the same thing that Michael is doing, he's looking out for his family cause the gang's stories don't make sense to him. Things are going to change here in the coming uds.

All hail the Christmas Nazi, lol! We agree Christmas is coming and she's just what everyone needs, lol. Okay maybe in small doses, lol.

keepsmiling7 –

It was sad, Max thinking about being back at home in the Evans home with all of the usual problems. We never appreciate what we have until it is no longer available.


So very true! We felt for Max as well.

We agree that Liz and Max are long overdue for a talk. We believe that both Liz and Max don't like confronting uncomfortable issues between each other. Having some down time is good for them. Max being uninhibited allowed him to say to the woman that he so desperately loves how much he loves and misses his son. Just like you said, it's hard for Liz to hear but now it's out and if or when Liz is brave enough to face her own feelings there is a chance for some open and honest dialog. Doing this could actually strengthen their relationship allowing them to love each other more deeply. ;)


Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Three Roswell episode Disturbing Behavior.


Part 26

The sunlight bounced off of the snow, so blindingly bright it hurt his eyes and made them water like crazy. Kyle shifted in an effort to get away from it but since he was vertically challenged there was no way to avoid it. Unless he wanted to slide across the seat and sit in Max’ lap and somehow that would just be wrong for so many reasons. He shifted uncomfortably and realized that his right knee was wedged against the front seat so tightly that he couldn’t move it. Michael had long legs so as soon as he had gotten in he had shoved the seat so far back he was practically in Kyle’s lap.

Kyle rolled his eyes. He would’ve said something but he already knew what was waiting for them at the shop so there was no need to aggravate the volatile hybrid prior to him learning that the van was indeed toast. He’d rather have Michael at least somewhat relaxed before that happened. Maybe it would balance out his reaction when the mechanic handed out the diagnosis because that news wasn’t going to be received well.

Michael shifted the sun visor a little but it was of no help to Kyle. He wasn’t tall enough or in the right position to take advantage of the respite it offered. He glanced over at Max, taking in his erect posture as he stared unseeingly at the back of Edward’s head. He wondered what he was thinking about. The van? Their current situation? Whatever was going on between him and Liz? He shook his head. The last one, he decided.

Outwardly Max gave no indication that something was troubling him, but he knew him well enough now to see the little indicators. Max carried himself differently than Michael did and he bottled things up. Granted, he could use a little less of Michael’s overbearing personality when things weren’t going right, but at least with him you knew where you stood. In some ways that made Max the harder one to read; he internalized, agonizing over things while trying to pretend that nothing was wrong and he had everything under control.

Appearances could be deceiving though. He tipped his head to the side, studying him and a smile broke out on his face as his imagination kicked in, providing him with an image of a palace. He could easily picture Max as royalty, sitting on a purple satin pillow with little gold tassels while his underlings plied him with hand-peeled grapes and fanned him with palm fronds. Wearing some sort of Aladdin getup, he thought, trying not to laugh. He snorted, nearly choking as his laughter escaped and he shook his head when all three of them turned to look at him.

“What is up with you, Valenti?” Michael bit out.

“Nothin’, just a thought.” Kyle shook his head and cleared his throat, trying to come up with something to get the attention off of him. “So did you really blast Woody Woodpecker in your underwear? How’d that go?”

Edward shifted and shrugged one shoulder. “It went.” Yeah, it went, he thought. Went over about as well as a fart in Sunday school.

Max snorted softly. “My wife would have me on the couch for a long time for somethin’ like that.” Not that he’d ever do anything like that.

“You’d be lucky to see daylight again if you ever did somethin’ like that,” Michael muttered.

“Well, I wasn’t on the couch technically,” Edward said. “I was temporarily residing in the office.”

“I can imagine.” Kyle thumped the back of Michael’s head. “Hey, whatcha think Maria would do to you if you ever did somethin’ like that?”

“I think it’s not even worth thinkin’ about.”

Kyle nodded. Yeah, she’d annihilate him for that. He reached between the seats to point up ahead. “Is that the shop?”

Edward flipped his turn signal on as they approached the dealership. “That’d be it. You’ll find Dean in the shop.” He grinned. “Just follow your ears.” He pulled into the parking lot and put the brakes on. “If you guys need anything,” he nodded at the phone Michael held, “speed dial two for me and three for the house.”

Michael held it up as he nodded, sliding it into his pocket as he shoved his door open and stepped down. “We’ll be waitin’ for you.”

“Shouldn’t be long, just a quick run to the Walmart.” He glanced over his shoulder when Kyle opened the back door and misjudged just how high up the truck sat. The younger man yelped as the ground he had expected to be right there didn’t materialize and he took a nosedive into the snow.

Michael reached down to grab the back of Kyle’s coat, pulling him back up just as Max dropped down out of the truck. He turned to look at Edward. “See ya later.” As soon as the doors were shut the truck pulled away and the guys turned to walk over to the customer entrance. He jerked the door open and muffled music reached their ears as they walked along a short concrete-walled hall to the glass door that opened into the shop.

Their ears were assaulted by painfully loud music reverberating off of the walls and shaking the glass in the windows as they opened the door and stepped into the nearly empty shop. Max reached up to cover his ears, wondering how anyone could listen to anything so offensive to the auditory nerves. Kyle was thinking something along similar lines as lyrics that he couldn’t even decipher were screamed out of the speakers at a decibel that was normally reserved for people who were nearly deaf.

Michael glanced around the shop, taking in a couple of cars with parts strewn around them in some sort of chaotic order and he stalked over to the stereo set up in one corner, jerking the power cord out of the outlet. The sudden silence was deafening and his head turned to the left when he heard something rolling along the concrete. A moment later a man stood up near the open hood of a… he squinted, his eyes still adjusting to the change in lighting. It was a Jetta, he realized. Some sort of bluish-green. Definitely a chick’s color choice.

“You fella’s must be here for the VW bus,” the man said as he approached them, wiping his hands on a greasy rag that he shoved back in one of the back pockets of his jeans. He was wearing a Godsmack tee shirt, his left arm covered in a tattoo sleeve and his right eyebrow pierced.

Kyle stepped forward and held his hand out to the guy. “Kyle,” he introduced himself before hooking his thumb over his shoulder to indicate his friends. “Michael and Max.”

“Name’s Dean.” He shook their hands and then nodded to the back of the shop where their vehicle was waiting. “Who did the paint job on your bus? Man, I’ve gotta tell ya, that’s an amazing job.”

Kyle nodded. “Wish I could tell ya, but it’d already been done before we got our hands on it.”

“Damn shame. Someone really knows what they’re doin’. I’ve never seen a paint job quite like this one. C’mon, let’s go take a look at your bus.”

*****

Eddie stared up at Maria as she rolled out the cookie dough. He propped his elbows on the counter and rested his chin in his hands as he watched her. She had been telling him about her mother, who sounded a little bit strange in his opinion, but he wasn’t about to tell her that! “So, your mom’s… what’d you call her, a hippie?”

“Yes, I did,” Maria said with a smile.

“What’s a hippie anyway?”

“Someone who’s a free spirit, makes their own rules, and loves nature.” She nodded to the measuring cup next to him. “Would you hand that to me?”

Eddie hurried to snatch it up and hand it to her, his hand brushing against hers and making his heart stutter in his chest. What the heck was wrong with him? “So is your mom like one of those tree hugger people?”

Maria snorted softly. “Yeah, she kinda is,” she admitted. “She’d have a fit over your dad shooting that poor little woodpecker.”

The boy smiled at her. “It wasn’t really funny at the time. Mom was mad at Dad for a long time,” he said uncomfortably. He shrugged one shoulder and looked up at her. “That woodpecker was destroying the wood trim around their bedroom window… it’s expensive stuff, ya know. I mean, Dad replaced it several times and even hung a suet feeder out in the yard but it kept comin’ back.”

“A what?”

“A suet feeder.” He grinned when he saw the confusion on her face. “They’re these little cake-like things made of fat and seeds.”

“Sounds tasty,” she said, making a face.

He laughed at her expression. “The birds like ‘em, especially woodpeckers, but for whatever reason that one just wasn’t interested. Anyway, Dad had just had enough.” He lowered his voice as he glanced at Mom where she was busy making cookies and talking to Liz and Isabel. “It got him in major trouble with Mom though.”

“I’ll bet.” Maria smiled, thinking of some of the impulsive things Michael had done. Nothing quite so drastic as what Edward had done to that poor little bird, but he definitely had his impulsive moments too.

Julia looked up when the phone rang and she wiped her hands on her apron. “That’ll be your dad,” she said as she crossed the kitchen to answer it.

*****

Edward walked through the automatic doors and grabbed a cart, nearly mowing down the greeter on his way through the theft sensors and into the store. He paused to apologize and then continued on his way, stopping when he realized the cart had a limp and the wheel would stick every couple of feet. He huffed in irritation and returned it to the cart area and pulled another one out, giving it an experimental push before making his way inside once more.

He slowed down as he neared the displays set up with all of the special foods that only came out around the holidays. He browsed for a few minutes before his thoughts began to wander and his mouth nearly started to water at the thought of filet mignon for two, crescent rolls… maybe apple dumplings or pie from the bakery… He glanced at his watch. Oh, yeah, the kids would be out in the next day or so. He had faith that Dean would fix whatever was wrong with their van and have them on their way. The guy was a top-notch mechanic; he could fix anything.

He felt better as he straightened up and reached into his shirt pocket to pull the list out, frowning he unfolded it and little colorful strips of paper floated out to dance on the air as they fluttered to the floor. “What the…” He crouched down to start collecting the escaped coupons, chasing a couple of them across the floor when the automatic doors opened behind him and the wind caught the paper, chasing them several feet away.

Once they were all collected once more he shoved them in the pocket of his coat and turned his attention back to the list. His frown only deepened when the page slipped and he realized that there were two pages. His mouth dropped open in shock as he separated the pages and his gaze slid over the… it couldn’t even be called a list. It was like an order form for a restaurant stock supply!

“24-pound turkey, honey-glazed ham, four…” his eyebrows nearly shot up off of his forehead, “four bags of hash browns?!” His gaze skittered further down the list. There were enough baking ingredients there for them to open their own bakery.

“You look about like I did when the wife sent me out this mornin’.”

Edward looked up to see a man moving past him pushing one cart and pulling another one, both of them packed to overflowing with groceries. He nodded and lifted the hand with the list as the man maneuvered his load into the checkout aisle. He pulled his phone out, growling under his breath as he flipped it open and hit number three on his speed dial.

*****

Dean patted the side of the bus as they passed it. “She sure is a beaut. Unfortunately…” he led the way around to the back end where the engine was hanging from a hydraulic lift, “Murphy really shit on your parade, boys. She’s gonna need more than just major surgery to get her roadworthy again.”

Kyle saw the problem right away but he allowed Dean to take the lead and walk the guys through the major issue they were facing. He had already suspected it was bad and he had tried to tell them but this was even worse than he had thought.

“See that rod right there?” Dean asked. Max and Michael followed his pointing finger as he leaned over to pick something up off of the floor. “Yup, this’s what’s left of it.” His forefinger traced over one end of the rod. “For some reason it detached and went right through the block.” He motioned to the engine again, drawing their attention to the obvious defect. “That’s one big ass crack, guys.”

Kyle was watching Michael’s features, seeing the tension building with each new nail in the van engine’s coffin. Oh, he was gonna blow at any minute.

Max scratched the back of his head. “Well, yeah, but it can be fixed, right?” His gaze shot to Kyle when the other guy let out a nervous laugh.

“Not with all the king’s horses and all the king’s men, El Presidente.”

“You’ve got some options of course,” Dean said, glancing between them. “There’s no way to repair that crack; your engine’s shot. Even a rebuild’s gonna be costly.”

Michael was gritting his teeth. “When you say costly…”

“Upwards of $3,500. These babies don’t come cheap. Of course, then you’re gonna have to factor in the shipping costs and labor so you’re lookin’ at a pretty good chunk of change before you’re finished. Your other option would be to look around for another vehicle. I’ve got a buddy who buys these classics and restores ‘em. Shane doesn’t sell parts for ‘em but he does have a bunch of old vehicles out on his property. He might have somethin’ to interest you.” He shrugged. “You’re likely to come out cheaper. There’s no rush to decide though. I’ll have to stop in and check with Shane. He doesn’t keep a phone so a visit’s the only way to get ‘hold of him.” He scratched his head. “Yeah, ah, Shane, he’s kinda in his own world there off 55.”

Kyle nodded as he glanced at Michael, noting the slightly confused look on his face. “If we could have a little time to decide that’d be great.”

“Cool. I’ve gotta finish runnin’ your information and then I’ll put it on the hold list until you’ve had some time to figure out how you’d like to proceed. If I could get one of you to sign off on the paperwork that’d be great. I can go ahead an’ run your VIN while I’m at it. I was gonna do it before but the system was down yesterday afternoon and when I got in this mornin’ I got sidetracked by my girl’s car.” He nodded at the Jetta he had been working on.

“Figured that was a chick’s car,” Michael muttered to cover for the myriad of panicked thoughts at Dean’s comment about running their VIN.

“Yeah,” he laughed, “she’s home from college for the holidays and she knows the labor’s cheap if I do it.”

Max glanced at Michael, taking in the tic in his tightly clenched jaw. “Why don’t I go take care of that paperwork,” he suggested.

Dean nodded. “Cool. I’ve got everything in the office. Follow me.”

“I’ll take care of it,” Max said to Michael as he passed him. “Just… I don’t know… go see if you can dig our sunglasses outta the van or somethin’.” He glanced at Kyle, mouthing the words ‘keep him occupied’.

Kyle nodded and waited until Max had disappeared into the office behind Dean. “So, El Capitan, wanna go find our sunglasses? I don’t know about you but I could do without bein’ blinded on the trip back to the house. I think my corneas may have already gone into shock… they may never recover from the earlier abuse.”

Michael was staring after Dean and Max, his temple starting to throb because his back teeth were grinding so hard.

“Yo, Michael, hey, let Max handle it.” He had no idea why Max was suddenly stepping up and showing an interest, but it was a good thing and he had every intention of encouraging him to continue that behavior. “Look, let him work his magic on the computer or whatever… you try it in this state and you’re likely to blow the damn thing up.” He reached out and slapped the other guy’s shoulder. “Wanna know what I was thinkin’ about in the truck?”

“Not really.”

“You sure? It’ll make ya laugh.”

“Let’s just get this over with,” Michael said, following Kyle as he picked his way around the tools and parts on the floor. He leaned against the side of the van while Kyle climbed inside to dig around and his gaze strayed to the ugly green Jetta. He glanced back towards the office as he found his feet leading him to the car that was so familiar and so different at the same time.

Kyle was leaning over between the front seats, moving paper around as he looked for sunglasses when he glanced up and noticed Michael. He stood next to the Jetta, his mind a million miles away. Or maybe just as far as Roswell, a certain blonde and another Jetta, he mused.

*****

Julia reached for the phone just as Maggie let out a sound of pure happiness. She leaned back to look out through the window as her husband started going on about the list she had sent with him, insisting that she must be out of her mind to think he was buying enough food to feed an army.

“Mrs. Dayna’s here!” Maggie ran over to Mama as she shouted excitedly.

She put her hand up to quiet her daughter. “Edward, the list is right… And Dayna’s at the door. Hang on a minute I’ll be right back. I have to go get the door.” She set the receiver down just as Isabel volunteered to answer the door for her.

On the other end of the line Edward was listening to the rustling sounds as Dayna entered the kitchen and he glanced over the list once more. Why was she at the door? He leaned on the cart, his morose gaze locked on the walkway that bypassed all of the aisles that suddenly loomed ahead like a stretch of highway with no end in sight. He shifted the phone when he heard Julia pick the handset up but then her voice was slightly muffled, which meant her hand was over the mouthpiece.

“Eddie, go put Cleopatra’s box in the mudroom.”

His teeth started to grind when her muted words began to filter into his ear and he shook his head. Cleopatra was Dayna’s cat. That thing practically went everywhere with her. She even had a special bag she carried the thing around in. And of course, let’s not forget the portable litter box. Ungh, one more reason why dogs were far superior animals.

“Edward, where were we?”

He shook his head and lifted the list up once more, opening his mouth to speak when the proverbial light bulb came on. Dayna Martin was at his house and they were baking 12 dozen cookies. And then there was the tall blonde along with Santa’s elves… what were their names? Oh, right, Snowflake and Candycane. He was in trouble, big time. Arguing with her wasn’t going to get him anywhere.

He sighed and dropped the list back into the cart. “I can’t quite make out how many bags of hash browns you wanted,” he said in a defeated tone.

“Four please. I think that’ll be sufficient.”

It’d be something alright, he thought. Sufficient wasn’t necessarily the first word that came to mind though. He decided to just buy the food and hope he could return the nonperishable stuff later on…. in a day or two, after all the kids were gone.

He couldn’t help but smile at the sound of Julia and Maggie’s voices; they were so excited about putting Tawas Lake’s Christmas together. He took in a deep breath and reached for another cart. “Okay, Julia, I’m gonna be a little late.” He nodded at her response and smiled. “Bye, I love you too.” Yes sir, he did, and sometimes it was downright painful. He stared at the phone in his hand for a moment. He should probably call the boys and let them know he wasn’t gonna be there right away. Ah, maybe Dean would run them down to the Walmart. He snorted quietly. “Let them haul all these groceries around,” he muttered under his breath as he hit the speed dial button to call Julia’s phone.

*****

Max stood in the small office looking at the picture frames on the wall mixed in among engine diagrams and a county map. He leaned on the corner of the desk where the computer sat as he craned his neck to look at the single picture amidst framed certificates, awards, and even a few newspaper clippings.

Dean glanced up and smacked the side of the monitor when the screen suddenly went blank and turned bright blue. “Damn, not again. This p.o.s. just died last week.”

Max smiled and scratched his forehead as he motioned to the photograph on the wall. “This a picture of your girl?”

The mechanic looked up at the picture and smiled. “Yeah, that’s my April. She’s really artistic.” He held his left arm out, proudly showing off the tattoo sleeve. “She recently started designing body art.” He shook his head. “She’s somethin’ else, but her car? Don’t get me goin’ on that thing. I sometimes have it more than she does.”

Max watched him as he frowned at the computer once more before he started opening up desk drawers, looking for the old-fashioned work order forms.

“Here we go. We’ll just write up the order for the diagnostics on the bus and leave it here till you guys decide how to proceed.” He started scratching out the order in a barely legible scribble. “I’ll take a drive down 55 and hit up Shane’s place on my way home, give you all a call at the Stevens’ place in the mornin’.”

Max nodded. “Sounds good.”

*****

Michael was pulled out of his thoughts when he heard Max and Dean step out of the office and back into the shop. He turned his head and listened as they talked about wives and girlfriends. He heard a phone ringing and he glanced around in search of it.

“That’d be you, El Capitan,” Kyle reminded him.

“No shit, Sherlock,” Michael bit out as he dug around in his pocket for the phone. He stared at it for several seconds before Kyle suddenly appeared next to him to snatch it out of his hand.

“He’s got a bad history with cell phones,” he said when Dean glanced between the two of them. “Just ask his girlfriend.”

Dean listened to the one-sided conversation, nodding when Kyle glanced up at him. “Sounds like you’re gonna need a ride out to the Walmart,” he said with a grin. “I need to give my girl’s car a test run anyway.”

Kyle relayed the information to Edward and after a few more seconds he ended the call and handed the phone back over to Michael. “He wants us to meet him in the frozen food section.” He shrugged at the looks the guys gave him. “Hell, I don’t know, that’s where he said to meet him.”

Once Dean had cleared a few things up and slammed the hood on the Jetta they all piled into the car, resuming their former seating arrangement. Michael glanced around as he pulled the seatbelt across his chest, clearly hearing Maria’s voice as she recited the cost of everything Laurie Dupree had been intent on trashing while they had her locked inside the car. He had been on the phone with Max and Isabel but Maria had kept up a running commentary that he hadn’t been able to block out.

“The side mirror. One hundred bucks, not including labor.”
….

“Sun visor. Fifteen bucks, including labor, of course.”
….

But she had lost it when Laurie had lunged for her walkman.

“No, no, no, no, no. Now – now you’re hurting all of us.”

His features sobered as he thought about her love of music. Something that in this life with him she could never pursue. He hated that she’d had to give that up for him.

“Not the dash! Not the dash! That is a major deal to replace.”

He smiled faintly at the memory as he ran his fingertip over the dashboard.
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 27 - 4/5/11

Postby KindredKandies » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:02 pm

Alien_Friend – The episodes with Laurie are on our fav episodes list as well

So I'm guessing they have go before all their information can get put into the system when it's all fixed. I hope they stay together but perhaps it would be easier to break a part.


Hmmm, that is a reasonable guess but it's hard to tell what will happen next. After all the van had the rod break in the engine and strand them next to Stevens' Sanctuary... Anything is possible.

Yup, it was nice to see Max step in to help out. We love Kyle's imagination and are glad that you enjoyed his daytime musings, lol.

LOl, poor Eddie he's been smitten by Maria Deluca. ;) We love Eddie.

Thank you. :)

cjsl8ne – Aww, thanks girl! Well, read on, the guys are about to come back to the house with the mountains of groceries. We hope you'll enjoy. ;)

keepsmiling7 – Yes, the van is toast and it's been confirmed but there is hope on the horizon with Dean's friend Shane. But even then life can change the terms of conditions when you least expect it. ;)

We love that scene in Disturbing Behavior as well, lol! Glad you enjoyed Michael's flashback.

We agree Max and Liz can get to a place to heal and enrich their relationship it's just going to take L&M time to get it done though. Neither one of them like to confront things head on.

You're welcome. We're glad you enjoyed it. :)

mary mary – Yup, that pesky VIN # can be a scary thing if it's being run through a PC system. Too bad Dean's system crashed just when Max happened to be leaning on the desk, lol. We'll have to see how the gang deals with their options.;)

Thank you we're glad you enjoyed the chapter! :)

Eva – Yes, we agree it was good to have Max step up to help. It's clear that Michael has been without his friend for way too long. Looks like Max is starting to wake from the blur of strung out stress of the last 6 months.

We liked writing the moment between Michael and the Jetta at the dealership. There's something about cars and nostalgia and in this case some really memorable M&M times.:)

Alien_Friend – Aww, you're very welcome, girl. ;)


Author’s Note: We’ll be posting on Sundays for the time being. RL hasn’t let up so for now we’re gonna take a bit of a break from posting twice weekly and shoot for Sundays. 


Part 27

Julia smiled as Dayna and Isabel bounced ideas off of each other. It hadn’t taken long to realize that the two of them were kindred spirits and this year’s Christmas on the Lake was going to be something really special. They were talking about a fitting for Santa Claus and the elves and when Dayna said that the costumes were a little out of date Isabel had quickly offered to take them off of her hands and spruce them up a bit.

“Oh, your husband mentioned something about reindeer,” Dayna said as she glanced up from sliding a new batch of cookies, ready for baking, across the counter for Julia. She glanced at Maggie, making sure she was out of earshot as she lowered her voice. The little girl had abandoned them halfway through the cookie marathon to play with Cleopatra. “I did a little research yesterday evening and we can have reindeer brought in but I have to confess I don’t know anything about them and neither does Dave.”

“That’s not a problem. My brother’s very knowledgeable about all sorts of animals and he can handle the reindeer.”

Liz nearly choked on the cookie she had been snacking on when she heard Isabel’s declaration. She had a feeling Max wouldn’t be as excited as his sister was when he found out they had found actual reindeer for him to wrangle. She held a hand up when her sister-in-law shot a look in her direction.

“But first he has a tree to find.”

Maria rolled her eyes when discussion of the tree diagram came into play and she exchanged a look with Liz. “I thought sure she was the only one who had that whole diagram thing going on,” she whispered when she realized that Dayna was in complete agreement on the subject.

“Can you imagine Max’s expression when he finds out not only did they manage to get reindeer for him to look after but he’s also expected to go out and find the tree?” Liz snickered when the conversation turned to decorations and the correct ratio of popcorn to cranberries when stringing them.

“Yeah, at least you won’t have to live with a cranky Santa,” Maria said in a hushed voice.

Liz snorted softly. “Yeah, because a cranky reindeer wrangler’s gonna be so much better.”

*****

Dean dropped the three of them off and assured them once more that he’d give them a call the next day before he zipped out of the parking lot. Kyle nudged Max, nodding at their silent companion. Michael stared at the entrance to the local Wal-Mart, watching the shoppers as they flowed through the automatic enter and exit doors at a regular pace. With the news about the van fresh in his mind this was the last place he wanted to be. The Jetta had eased his tension for a while as he had gotten lost in his memories and neither of them had tried to draw him into the conversation, leaving him to his brief but much-needed escape.

A Salvation Army Santa Claus stood between the doors, ringing his bell and belting out a hearty Ho Ho Ho and a Merry Christmas to everyone coming and going. Many of the shoppers would pause to drop a donation into the red bucket hanging from a tripod frame beside him before continuing on their way with a smile and a candy cane from Santa. As they passed through the doors Kyle leaned over and dropped a couple dollars in the bucket and nodded in thanks when Santa handed him a candy cane. He opened it up and broke off a piece that he popped in his mouth, snapped off a section that he gave to Max, and then held out what was left to Michael.

“Here, suck on this.” He grinned when that earned him a glare. “It’ll improve your mood.”

“Do you realize just how serious this is?” Michael snapped as he shoved Kyle’s hand and his offering away. “Once that VIN gets logged it’s over.”

Max shook his head. “His computer’s outta whack. He wrote the work order up on an old paper form.” He shrugged. “I altered it while I was signing it. It’ll buy us some time if his computer comes back online anytime soon.” He smiled as he raised his hand, curling his fingers over to blow on them. “Which I doubt.”

“That’s perfect.” He narrowed his eyes. “When his computer’s either workin’ again or it’s been replaced, all he’s gotta do is double check the VIN on the van and he’ll have that and your signature. Why don’t we just take out an ad on a fuckin’ billboard while we’re at it?”

Kyle hummed around the candy in his mouth as he shook his head and pointed off to the left where the frozen foods section could be seen. “I don’t think we can afford that,” he deadpanned. He glanced at Max when he didn’t defend his actions. “I give, El Presidente, wanna explain?”

“Nothing to explain,” Max denied. “My own mother wouldn’t recognize the signature on that work order, and as far as the VIN’s concerned I just inverted a couple of the numbers on the form. No, it’s not like it’ll buy much time once it’s noticed, but I’ve been thinkin’ about that. We don’t even know where Jesse got the van but my guess is he did his best to cover his tracks… he knew what was at stake. It was pretty last minute, so there was no time for him to get it and have the title and everything transferred by the time he showed up with it that night. Besides, your dad would know how easily we could be traced through the VIN.”

“You think my dad transferred ownership to someone who would never be suspected, maybe even made somethin’ up,” Kyle said and nodded. “That’s possible.”

Michael snatched what was left of the candy cane out of Kyle’s hand and tore the plastic wrapping off of it. “It’s possible, but we don’t know for sure… this thing with the VIN is still a major problem.” He grunted when someone flew out of one of the aisles and around the corner, ramming into him with their cart.

“Oh, I am soooo sorry,” a woman apologized as she rushed around to make sure he was alright. “Are you okay?”

Was he okay? After a full frontal assault?

“Wow,” Kyle mumbled around his candy cane, “that looked like it hurt.” Well, Guerin was still upright, so it couldn’t be too bad, he decided. He smiled at the pretty brunette when she turned to look at him.

“Hi,” she said, forgetting all about the victim of her dash to the registers.

Finally! A woman who recognized a good thing when she saw it! Kyle thought triumphantly.

Max glanced at the bulging vein in Michael’s forehead and the tic in his jaw. It was like watching the countdown to an explosion, he mused. But, since an explosion was the last thing they needed at the moment he intervened in an attempt to diffuse the ticking time bomb that had just been mown down by a shopper. “He’s married,” he said out as she introduced herself to Kyle.

Kyle glared at him when she paused with her hand partially extended in greeting. “Shut up, Evans.” He smiled at the woman and shook his head. “You can ignore him.”

“I don’t think my sister would appreciate you flirting with another woman while she’s at home with the twins. Jeez, man, she sent you out to pick up cough medicine for your kids… no wonder she wanted me to go with you.” He put his most sincere expression on and looked at the woman. “You’ll excuse us, won’t you?”

She shook her head at Kyle and started to walk away, hauling her overburdened grocery cart behind her.

“You should be ashamed of yourself, young man.”

Michael snorted when an elderly woman poked Kyle’s leg with her cane as she passed him. They were saved from the speech he was sure she was warming up to when Edward suddenly appeared with two carts already in the stages of being filled.

*****

The conversation stalled when they heard doors slamming and before long the back door opened and Edward walked in laden down with grocery sacks. Julia gave him a kiss and leaned in to whisper in his ear, “Your favorite overly-brown cutout cookies are in the tin on the counter,” as she reached for a couple of them, relieving him of his burden.

“How’d it go at the dealership?” Maria asked. She watched Michael’s features, seeing the answer written there.

Isabel looked over at Michael and Max when they unloaded their sacks and she craned her neck, looking for the third musketeer. “Where’s Kyle?”

Max snorted as he twisted his hand to free it from the handle on one of the sacks. “He’s gonna be a minute or so. He’s um,” he snickered, “he’s got a monster frozen turkey in his lap and he’s buried under several more things too.” He turned to look at her. “The van’s beyond repair, but we’ve got a couple of options to consider.”

Maggie came running into the kitchen, eager to see what was in the bags. She was making her way over to Michael when Mama called her, telling her to stay back and let the guys get inside with the groceries. Edward took the momentary break to call the boys to come and unpack the groceries. While Brian was relieved to have the guys back, Eddie looked a little put out that Maria’s attention was no longer his.

Maria’s gaze stayed on Michael as he fought with a bag that kept trying to tip over and she could tell it was only further trying his patience. She glanced down at the next gingerbread man in line to be decorated and a slow smile appeared as she grabbed a tube of icing and the sprinkles.

“Michael,” she called after a minute or so of working on her creation.

He came up behind her to slip his arms around her waist, lowering his head to nuzzle her neck when he caught Eddie’s expression. Poor kid didn’t even know what was happening to him. He smirked when the boy was called away by his dad and he glanced down when Maria’s head settled against his neck. “Great decorating job,” he grinned, taking in the warm gingerbread man cookie with Kyle’s name written vertically down the torso and two tiny blue sprinkles placed… strategically.

“Well, you did say the poor guy had a lapful of frozen turkey.”

He smirked and pressed a kiss against her cheek before taking his cookie and turning around. “C’mon, Maxwell, we’d better give your brother-in-law a hand with that bird.”

Max was listening to his sister and Dayna as they rattled off ideas at a rate that made his head spin. Liz was helping Julia with the groceries and discussing the preparations for lunch so he brushed his hand over her arm on his way out the door behind Michael. He laughed out loud before shaking his head when his friend showed off his gingerbread man. “Maria’s got a sick sense of humor.”

“I know.”

They rounded the hood of the truck just as a sack full of bread and dinner rolls flew out through the open back door followed by a sack of potato chips.

“Jeez, Valenti, what’s your hurry?”

Kyle glared at Max since he was the first one to appear. “I’ve got a block of ice freezin’ everything south of the border so if you guys wanna get a move on I’d appreciate it.” He was wedged into his seat and packed in by so many sacks of groceries that he could barely move.

“Check it out,” Michael said as he sat in the front passenger’s seat and reached back to show off Maria’s creation. “Maria made one that looks like you.”

“Huh,” Kyle grunted, his eyes narrowing at the two miniscule blue sprinkles, “it does almost look like me but there’s one difference.”

Michael turned it around to look at it. “I don’t know. Similarities are pretty obvious.”

Kyle lunged forward as well as he could to snatch it out of his hand and take a big bite of it. “Damn thing was too tall,” he mumbled and handed it back.

“Hell, I’m not gonna eat it now that you’ve slobbered all over it.”

“Whatever.”

Michael snapped off the lower half of the cookie and tossed it to Kyle. “C’mon, let’s get the rest of this haul into the house. I heard somethin’ about lunch bein’ ready before long.” He pointed at one of the sacks that had been kept separate. “That one needs to go down to our cabin.”

“Yeah, and the other one goes to ours,” Max said, nodding at one stuffed against the door on the floor behind the drivers’ seat.

Kyle leveled a look at them. “Is this your way of askin’ me to carry your crap down to your cabins? If it is you both need to work on it.” He glared at each of them in turn. “Get this frozen turkey carcass off my nuts and I’ll haul your crap down to your cabins.”

“Oh, right.” Max leaned in and started to unbury Kyle from his grocery cocoon.

“Hey, watch out for my stuff,” Michael growled when a sack of cans landed dangerously close to his grocery sack.

*****

Edward sighed as he settled back in his recliner, feet propped up on the footrest just as Julia came into the living room with his favorite sandwich on a plate and a cup of hot chocolate. He looked up at her, taking in her happy smile and the sparkle in her eyes. Is this my reward or just bait for another mission to help put Christmas on the Lake together? Ah, who was he kidding? She was just so damn beautiful and he knew it was a lost cause trying to understand the why of it.

As he took in his favorite sandwich piled high with ham and Swiss, slathered with horsey sauce, cut in half and separated with a small mountain of chips in between them his mind started screaming. No, no, no! Whatever it is, no! But he knew better. Here he was in his favorite chair and she was waiting on him with her bright, shining smile. He was so glad to see her and especially Maggie excited about Christmas again. He glanced at his boys where they were huddled up over the fixings for lunch, shoving each other and generally making a mess of things while making their sandwiches. They weren’t as overt about it but he knew they were excited that Christmas on the Lake would be making an appearance this year.

He was settling in and getting ready to chow down when the others started to filter in, one and two at a time. He let them find their way around the room and take their seats, paying little attention to anything being said as he focused on his food.

Max grabbed Isabel’s arm when Dayna excused herself for a moment and he pulled her aside.

“What are you doing?” Isabel demanded.

“Are you out of your mind?” he hissed.

“What are you talking about?”

“I don’t know anything about animals and I know even less about reindeer! You told that woman I could handle reindeer!”

Isabel waved him off. “Didn’t we cover this the other night?” Her eyes gleamed as she grinned from ear to ear. “Imagine all the children’s faces when they see real live reindeer, Max! And you’ll get to be a part of that.” She made another waving motion with her free hand. “Now go eat. You’ll want to make sure you’ve had a good meal before you go out with Michael to find a tree this afternoon.”

Michael blocked the doorway as he came to a stop and stared at Isabel. “What?” he mumbled around a mouthful of potato chips.

“Dayna said there’s a Christmas tree farm just a couple miles away.”

He stared at his sister. “Well, can’t you just send Kyle?”

“Max,” she said patiently, “Kyle has other things to do. He’s my assistant and that means I need him here to help out with other things.”

“That’s right, El Presidente… assistant, got it?” Kyle asked as he squeezed between Michael and Max.

Michael thumped the back of Kyle’s head as he passed him. “Yeah, y’know what the first three letters of assistant is?”

“Yes, Santa,” he said with a grin, “Kyle can spell. Does Santa know the definition of the word assistant?” Without waiting for a response he wandered into the living room and took a seat on the floor next to the coffee table.

Michael let the subject drop, deciding that if he just ignored it Isabel might forget it. He dropped down in the second recliner and caught Maria’s hand when she came into the room, tugging her down to sit in his lap. He wrapped one arm around her loosely and balanced his plate on the arm of the chair.

Eddie slowed down, glancing sideways at the couple until his brother pushed him from behind. “Cut it out, doofus,” he muttered.

“Well, move outta the way,” Brian

Maggie walked up to the couple in the recliner with the cat cradled in her arms and she smiled at Michael. “Cleopatra is Mrs. Dayna’s kitty.” She lowered her head to whisper in the cat’s ear. “This’s Michael an’ he knows Santa. And that’s Maria, she’s his…” She paused, unsure of what to say and pursing her lips as she looked up at them.

Maria spoke up. “I’m his girlfriend,” she said, squeezing his arm before reaching out to pet the tuxedo-marked cat.

The little girl smiled at him. “Would you like to hold her?” She placed the cat on the part of Michael’s lap that Maria wasn’t taking up as she continued. “Cleopatra has a twin sister. Her name is Christina an’ she’s Mrs. Tony’s kitty. She loves to eat cake, the yellow kind with frosting,” she rattled on. “Christina doesn’t like cake but she likes to eat Fritos corn chips.” She turned around, searching for Mama. “If it’s okay with Mrs. Dayna can I… um, may I have a little Debbie cake to share with Cleopatra?”

With affirmative answers all around Maggie disappeared to collect the snack cake and Dayna and Isabel paid little attention to their lunch as they took turns filling out the daily planner. Kyle leaned over every once in a while to point things out or make suggestions and much to Max and Michael’s displeasure most of those helpful suggestions involved them in some form or other.

“Um, Iz, how do you suggest we go and get a tree?” Max asked after he had watched the two women and their assistant fill out every page for the next six days. As he had listened to them bouncing ideas off of each other he had learned that Christmas on the Lake would take place next Saturday.

“You’ll go to the tree farm a couple of miles away and you’ll find one that meets the parameters of the diagram… and then you’ll cut it down and bring it back.”

Michael frowned at that. In the past hour he had heard Dayna reaffirm that she had gotten permission from Mrs. Tony to use the place for Christmas on the Lake but it was everything that had followed that had put the sour expression on his face. The list was packed full of things like plowing Mr. Tony’s long driveway to the house and the barn and apparently they were expected to go out and shovel ice?! He hadn’t signed up for any of that! Then there were the decorations stored in the barn, pulling them down and getting them set up.

Isabel was at her radiant best as she assigned tasks and as usual she had no problem assigning them to anyone and everyone. She was an equal opportunity enslaver and they had all been given jobs for the next six days. Kyle was enjoying the hell out of being her assistant, knowing that he might be run ragged for the duration of this insanity but he wouldn’t be doing the more menial jobs the rest of them were expected to do. And if he happened to get stuck with one of those jobs for any reason at least he wouldn’t be stuck wearing a ridiculous outfit.

Edward had been silent, mulling over Max’s question for several minutes. “You boys can take the snowmobiles out and head down to the farm, pick out that tree an’ bring it back.” Anything to keep him from being sent back out on another Christmas mission.

“Can I go help cut down Santa’s tree, Daddy?” Maggie asked.

“I think we’ll let Michael and Max handle that,” he answered, trying not to smile at the look of extreme disappointment on her face.

“You’re comin’ with me,” Michael whispered into Maria’s ear. He tightened his arm around her, holding her closer. “Non-negotiable.”

Maria smiled, enjoying the feel of his arm around her. She rested her head on his shoulder and inhaled his scent. It wasn’t like they were going out to pick out their own tree, but she had never gone out to an actual tree farm. Back home she and her mom had always stopped in at the Christmas tree lot. This was so much more exciting!
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 28- 4/1311

Postby KindredKandies » Wed Apr 13, 2011 12:32 am

Alien_Friend- We're keeping our fingers crossed about the situation with the van's VIN #. We also think it's possible that Jim had helped them in that way with the van as well. We'll have to wait and see.

We're glad you're in love with the Christmas part, there is much more to come. :) Six days of rushing to get Christmas on the Lake put together is going to be interesting for the gang.

Aww, thank you!


mary mary- LOl, yup Christmas is going to be interesting alright. We've got our fingers crossed about the VIN# and hope that Max is right about Jim helping them out. Like Michael we'll have to wait and see.

We want the gang to have a great Christmas as well. Isabel saw your last comment and wants to know "Just how is it that my name and Dayna's is in the same sentence of things to run from like the FBI?! Is it too much for me to want to have a MERRY CHRISTMAS?!"


keepsmiling7- Lol, we think so. Sometimes good things come in non conventional ways, like a breakdown in the winter. Christmas is the time for miracles. ;)

We can't wait to see Max wrangling the reindeer as well....it should be interesting, lol.



Author’s Note: A few lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Two Roswell episode “We Are Family”.


Part 28

Michael led the way into the garage and he glanced over his shoulder at the others, annoyed when he realized that Maria and Liz had fallen way behind and were chattering like a couple of girls. He snorted to himself. Scratch that thought. He looked at Max when he stopped right behind him. “They need to learn how to operate these things,” he insisted.

“Okay,” Max said agreeably.

Michael’s mouth was hanging open, expecting opposition and prepared to continue with his argument. His eyes narrowed. “What’d you just say?” he asked suspiciously.

“You’re right.”

His mouth snapped shut and he just shook his head as he walked inside to study the gear.

Liz nudged her best friend as they walked side by side. They had been excitedly discussing their tree hunting excursion until they had noticed Michael’s look back at them. “So, how’re you and Michael doing?” She bit her lip for a moment as she smiled at Max and he disappeared into the shadowy interior of the garage. “I mean, he’s been so… I don’t now…” She pinched her lips together between her teeth as she carefully chose her words.

“I don’t know, Liz. He’s so tense about our safety that it’s hard to tell what he’s thinking as far as our relationship’s concerned.” She looked at the other girl. “Looks like you and Max are doing just fine. He never leaves your side and the honeymoon seems to be in full swing, girlfriend.”

“That part’s good,” Liz blushed as she responded quietly. “Real good.”

“Hey, you two wanna get a move on?” Michael asked as he stuck his head out the door. “It’s bad enough we’re even doin’ this, but now you’re out here yakkin’ it up and wastin’ time.”

“You know, some people would just relax and enjoy the chance to be off the road,” Liz said as she squeezed past him.

“Why don’t you zip it, Candycane,” he snapped. “The royal wrangler’s waitin’ for you.”

She just rolled her eyes and went over to her husband, nodding when he motioned for her to just ignore Michael and let it pass.

“You know, we’re gonna talk about this attitude of yours, Santa,” Maria said.

“Whatever, you two need to get geared up so we can get outta here. Now let’s go.” He just looked at her when she shook her head at him.

Maria decided to drop it for the moment. There was no point in getting into an argument in front of anyone else. She gave him that look that said this conversation wasn’t over before going inside to get ready.

Nearly 20 minutes later Michael swung his right leg over the seat, his gaze critically scanning over the placement of Maria’s hands and feet as she sat in front of him. He had gone over the proper startup several times and if her expression was anything to go by she was ready to yank one of the skis off and beat him with it. He leaned in and pointed to the cord that ran from the key to the steering column. “Kill switch, what’s that do again?”

Maria shivered when his breath brushed against her cheek. She turned to yell over the idling engine, “It kills the engine!” She shook her head in annoyance as she glanced at Max and Liz. Was Max giving her the third degree? No, he was using the lesson as an opportunity to flirt and tease the love of his life. And the love of her life? Well, he was cramming the lesson down her throat repeatedly because he obviously felt that as the only human she wasn’t capable of even grasping such a simple concept. She could just kick herself for her warm and fuzzy thoughts when she had been sitting in the living room with his arm around her.

“You remember where the brake is and how to use it?”

She huffed in irritation and faced front as she put her helmet on.

He reached around her to indicate the brake on the left side and she immediately shoved his hand away.

Michael smirked at the feisty tone in her voice. She had surprised him with the ease that she had shown starting the snowmobile up as quickly as she had. He could hear the pride in her voice below her annoyance with him for pushing her about the operation of the vehicle. He was only doing it for her own good and in spite of her irritation he momentarily forgot about the FBI and the necessity of learning things like this on the off chance they had to run.

Liz glanced over at the other couple as Michael spoke to Maria, pointing at different parts of the snowmobile from time to time. “Um, Max, what’s going on?” she asked as she finished getting ready.

He smiled and motioned to the snowmobile waiting for them. “Nothin’ much. We just thought it’d be a good idea for our girls to know how to ride these machines.” He took her by the hand and pulled her in for a kiss, pulling away before her knees had time to go weak. He led her over to the snowmobile and took his time teaching her what to do to operate the thing. He teased and flirted his way through it, his body moving in close but not touching, his breath whispering against her skin, and using innuendo at every opportunity.

“You really want me to learn this?” she asked uncertainly.

She watched him as he straddled the snowmobile, recognizing the look on his face. He had worn the same expression that day in the back of the Crashdown when they had dumped fresh strawberries all over the floor. His eyes and his voice were positively hypnotic as he spoke and she had no idea if she’d remember a damn thing about operating the snowmobile, but she wouldn’t forget this moment and him.

“It’s worth learnin’ to ride, Liz, and it’s a great ride.” He hooked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate the sled hooked to their machine. “We’ll have to take it slow though. Michael refused to be slowed down by the sled and we’ve gotta have somethin’ to haul that tree back with.” His voice dropped as he gave her that look where he lowered his head and looked up at her through his eyelashes. “You do enjoy a slow ride, right?”

He was so sexy and charming sometimes. Yeah, she’d be lucky if she remembered how to start the engine at this rate, she thought. “I do enjoy a good slow ride,” she murmured as she moved closer to him. “I also prefer it more one on one and without so many layers.”

Max held his breath, wondering if Liz truly understood the power that she had over him. She still made his palms sweat and his body quickened when she gave him that little teasing sideways glance as she seated herself in front of him.

Maria glanced at the other couple and rolled her eyes. Liz and Max could make out over anything, she mused.

“You’re sure you’ve got the brake thing down, right?” Michael asked as he pulled his helmet on.

She sighed in annoyance. She was gonna show her Spaceboy a thing or two about her ability to take care of herself. She thumbed the lever on the throttle as she turned her head to watch him finish strapping his helmet on before flipping the switch and shooting out of the garage.

His left arm loosened as they neared the end of the driveway and she knew he was about to reach for the brake. If she weren’t so pissed off at him she might have thought it was sweet or maybe just rolled her eyes in fond exasperation, but she was. She beat him to the brake, stopping them smoothly at the highway and then they were off again in search of the Barry Tree Farm.

Michael leaned into her, snaking his arms around her. He knew he could easily reach the brake with his left hand if it became necessary, so he let himself enjoy the ride. He knew the tree farm was only about two miles down the road in the opposite direction from Big Dave’s Hardware and the snowmobile under Maria’s urging was quickly eating up the distance. His eyebrows shot up when her speed increased and a bush that had seemed to be the size of a quarter suddenly loomed ahead of them.

“Bush, bush!” he shouted, certain she hadn’t seen it yet.

Maria felt his left arm tightening around her and his right arm relaxing as if he were about to take control.

“Oh, hell no, Spaceboy!” She sharply throttled down and made the curve to miss the bush, feeling proud of herself as his right arm tightened once more.

They whizzed past tons of fir trees along the road and she wondered where the tree farm was. Not too far ahead she could see a large sign with arrows and she headed straight for it, positive it was the entrance to the farm. She pulled into the drive, coming to a smooth stop right in front of a sign that read ‘The Mystery Spot???’ She bit her lips to keep from laughing when Michael turned his head and came helmet to nose with the large oval-headed green alien on the sign.

He stared at the offensive picture and suddenly found himself sitting in the backseat of the Jetta, face to face with a large green inflatable alien head that had just popped up out of a cardboard box. She had been antagonistic with him in the garage because he was trying to show her how to properly operate the snowmobile, then she had totally missed the driveway for the farm, and now here they were. “That’s just fantastic, a freak show next door to a Christmas tree farm.”

“So what? It’s a tourist trap, Michael.”

“The point is you totally overshot the driveway because you’re not listenin’ to me!”

“I’m not gonna sit here and argue with – “

“Shh!”

She was just about to push ahead with the argument when she heard the sound he had turned his head to catch. The other snowmobile! Max and Liz were catching up with them!

“C’mon, they’re gonna beat us and we left first and were goin’ faster!”

Maria leaned back into him when he started to get up, his intention to take over and drive obvious. And so incorrect. She thumbed the throttle lever once again and they were pulling into the right driveway within seconds, just barely beating the other couple. She stood up, feeling all powerful as she turned to face him. He was already ranting, but the words were lost on her when he reached up to jerk his helmet off, shaking his head so that his long hair fell loose, reminding her of the day he had ridden up on his bike to say goodbye.

Michael glanced at the little red barn that the family obviously used as their base of operations. He turned to walk up to the open doors with Maria hurrying to catch up with him. He could see the tables lined up inside; wisps of steam rose from a crock pot of hot apple cider, a couple of plates filled with donuts sat on either side of it along with a stack of napkins and disposable cups.

“Hey there, y’all lookin’ for a tree?”

Michael cringed inwardly when he recognized the owner of the voice.

“Well, hey, look who it is,” Buckeye said as he grinned widely and hurried up to them. He shook Michael’s hand and introduced himself to the young woman with him. “Here for a tree?”

“Yes,” Maria said with a smile. “My friends and I are helping with Christmas on the Lake.”

“Neat.” He nodded at the doors behind them. “Must be your friends,” he commented when he saw the second couple.

“How’d you know that?” Michael asked.

Buckeye lifted his right hand to point at the right front corner of the snowmobiles. “They’re marked. See the shadowed S’s there? That’s for Stevens Sanctuary, they don’t normally have guests this time of year, an’ you’re both drivin’ their machines, so…” he grinned.

“Right, well…”

He pushed his baseball cap back and smiled. “Well, you folks probably wanna warm up a bit before ya head out to find your tree.”

“Buckeye… aren’t you the guy that towed our van the other day?” Maria asked.

Michael tried to motion to Maria when she opened her big mouth and started talking. Hadn’t he warned her the other day that this guy could talk about anything, everything and nothing?

“Yup, that’s me,” he answered. “I work here part-time, helpin’ out with the trees. Didja know that the first decorated Christmas tree was in Latvia in 1510?” He nodded to himself. “Yup, it’s a fact.”

“Wow, really?”

Michael grabbed her arm and tugged her back toward the doors before Mr. Encyclopedia could answer. “We’ve gotta check on our friends.” He glared at Maria when they reached the parking lot and she pulled her arm free. “Didn’t I tell you he talks too much about nothin’? Why would you encourage that?”

Maria opened her mouth to blast him for being so rude but before she could get a word out Max spoke up.

“Wow, we thought you guys were way ahead of us.”

Michael frowned at the tiny bits of twigs and pieces of greenery stuck to their clothes. “What’d you…” he snorted. “Candycane drive through that bush back there?”

“It was in the middle of the path,” Liz muttered as she shook her head to shake her hair loose.

“Let’s just say the bush is no longer blocking the path,” Max said as he draped his arm around his wife’s shoulders and shot a look at Michael. “Let’s go get this tree thing done so we can get back home.”

Michael bit his tongue at the slip, but only because Maria nailed him in the center of his back with her helmet. “Whatever.”

“So, you drove through the bush, huh?” Maria teased Liz as they stood next to the table, ladling a couple cups of hot cider. “What exactly were you and Max doing that you didn’t see that bush?”

“Shut up!” Liz said, blushing.

“Um-hmm.”

Michael was impatiently waiting nearby as Max talked to Buckeye and Carl Barry, the owner of the farm. Carl was an easy-going man of medium build and he was very proud of his business. It was obvious he had a great love of the land and he cared about what he did for a living. He rolled his eyes as the conversation turned to saws and trees and before long Max and Liz were picking through the selection of saws available to customers and fawning over each other throughout the entire process.

Maria moved to take his hand, pulling him with her over to the table and handing him a cup of the hot cider. She reached over to snag a fresh cookie off of the plate that had been put out just minutes before and put it in his free hand. “Just relax, Michael.”

“Relax? The two of them are practically havin’ sex over there.”

She wrinkled her nose at him. “Be nice or I’ll call Buckeye over here and ask him if he knows anymore facts about Christmas trees. Look, just try to relax. We’re in the middle of nowhere looking for a Christmas tree. We’re gonna enjoy a few days of not running, just celebrate Christmas and if we’re lucky, enjoy a few days of leftovers before we have to run again.”

“Say, speakin’ of leftovers,” Buckeye said as he came up beside them to get some cider, “didja know that it’s been estimated that spoiled Christmas leftovers are actually responsible for like 400,000 cases of food poisoning every year?” He nodded and lifted his cup up. “Yup, it’s a fact.”

Max and Liz joined them just as Buckeye wandered off and Liz shook her head. “I could’ve done without that little tidbit of information.”

*****

Isabel and Dayna were conspiring over the next weeks’ activities while Kyle tossed in his two cents every so often. The timetable was nearly complete and he had been amazed at how easily the two women fell into sync. The way their minds worked was a little bit scary. The amount of work they had to do to pull this thing together was insane and he knew the next week was going to be hectic.

They had filled in every available time slot for the next six days in Dayna’s trusty planner and then moved on to a notebook Julia had produced. He was surprised there was any ink left in their pens as much as they had used up already. He glanced at the chair Edward had occupied earlier and wondered where he and the boys had gotten off to. He knew Julia had called Maggie to help her with some things before dinner but he suspected that she was giving them time to get the plans hammered out. He tuned back into the conversation when the topic of the costumes came up again.

“You’re sure you don’t mind trying to sort out the costumes?” Dayna asked.

He snorted silently. Like Isabel would risk the costumes not being perfect, he thought. He could just imagine what she would put them through while making sure the costumes were right. Well, not them, just Santa, Snowflake, Candycane and the Chief Reindeer Wrangler. As the Christmas Nazi’s assistant he was given immunity from any sort of elf-like costume that the others would be forced to parade around in. He was mentally congratulating himself on his good fortune when he heard his name and realized Isabel and Dayna were talking about him.

He bit his lip as he tried to figure out what they were talking about when they looked at him expectantly, their eyebrows raised as they waited for an answer. Oh, what had she just asked him? He cleared his throat as he glanced between the two of them. His answer was either going to be the right one or a very, very wrong one. “Well, no…” The warning bells went off when Isabel’s eyes narrowed slightly. Wrong answer, wrong answer, wrong answer! “No, not no, just… no, I don’t see any problems with that.” He breathed a silent whew! when their manic smiles returned and he wondered what he had just agreed to.

*****

Michael stood at the back of the barn, staring at the rows and rows of snow with plowed paths running between them. He could see trees here and there but there didn’t appear to be any of significant size. He glanced to the side when Max joined him and he blew out a heavy breath that misted on the cold air when he realized he was pulling out the tree design. [/i]If they weren’t so close to other people he’d incinerate that damn thing.[/i] He shook his head at the saw and small shovel Max was carrying.

“Where’re the girls?” he asked as he relieved him of the shovel.

“They’ll be here in a minute. They needed to make a quick trip to the ladies room.” Max held the diagram up before looking past it to the hills before them. He frowned and turned slightly, looking in another direction. “Didn’t they say the trees were back here?”

Michael nodded to a little tree to the right. “What’s wrong with that one?”

“Besides the fact that it’s about four feet too short? I don’t know about you but the reindeer thing’s gonna be bad enough.”

“Do you have a point?” Michael growled.

“Yeah,” Max snorted, “I’m not angling for the job of the angel on top of the tree.”

A slow smirk showed up on Michael’s face at that comment.

“You’ll wanna head up a bit further,” Buckeye said as he passed them, lugging a freshly-cut tree. “Little late in the season, so the trees are gonna be a bit of a walk.” He pointed at the treeline in the distance as he glanced over the diagram Max held. “Nice picture… you draw that yourself?”

Max glanced at the picture of the tree with its precise lines and measurements. “Uh, no.”

“Huh.” He gave it one last glance before nodding at the treeline. “’Bout a quarter mile in you’ll find some real nice trees. It’ll be worth the walk.”

“The girls will just love that,” Michael muttered.

“Well, at least there aren’t any bugs out this time of year,” Max said, looking at it from a positive angle.

“Say, didja know findin’ a spider web on your tree on Christmas mornin’ brings good luck?”

“That a fact?” Michael asked before the guy could spout off his parting line.

Buckeye pushed his baseball cap back and grinned widely. “That’s what they say.” He nodded at the girls when they finally made their way around to the back of the barn. “Well, I’ve gotta get this tree ready for the family that cut it down so we’ll see y’all in a bit.”

Michael watched him walk away as he snatched the diagram out of Max’s hand. “Let’s get this over with. The longer this takes, the more outta control the Christmas Nazi’s getting. We’re gonna get back to find reindeer, friggin’ elves, and knowin’ your sister, a popcorn and cranberry assembly line.”

Maria and Liz were walking arm in arm as they admired the scenery. “It’s just so amazing, isn’t it?” she asked, awed by the breathtaking scenery.

Michael glanced over his shoulder. “You two wanna get a move on?”

She pointedly ignored him and after a moment he and Max headed down one of the plowed rows in search of the perfect Christmas tree. She and Liz followed at a more sedate pace, admiring their surroundings and talking. “You know, Liz, if he could just enjoy this moment. We’re here in this beautiful place, sleeping in real beds, actually sitting down at a real table for dinner…”

“You know, it’s funny,” Liz said when Maria fell silent. “I used to imagine what my first Christmas would be like when Max and I were on our own. It is beautiful here, but this isn’t anything like what I had ever imagined.”

Maria was about to respond when she took a step off of the path and as her right foot came down she was plunged into the snow and she yelped loudly. Liz scrambled to keep a hold on her arm and in the end they both went down, landing in the snow and laughing like crazy.

“Hey, Frick and Frack, you two wanna quit playin’ in the snow and c’mon?” Michael demanded from the safety of the path. His heart had started pounding as soon as he’d heard her but by the time he had reached her he had realized what had happened.

“I don’t think I can get up,” Maria said, exchanging a look with Liz and laughing even harder at the absurdity of their situation when she realized her friend was in the same state.

He rolled his eyes and carefully made his way over to them, nearly getting knocked over by Max as he rushed to help his wife. He shook his head and bit back the words on the tip of his tongue when the other couple started making their way back up to the path, unaware of Maria shooing them off. He reached for her hand to pull her up and she surprised him when she hooked one foot behind his knee and jerked, unbalancing him and causing him to fall forward.

“You’re way too cranky, Spaceboy,” she said as he stared down at her, breathing hard after just barely catching himself before he fell on top of her. “I realize how serious our situation is, but you need to take it down a notch or two.”

His gaze traced over her features, taking in her playfully sparkling green eyes, her reddened cheeks, and the smile on the most gorgeous pair of lips he’d ever seen. He slowly lowered his head for a kiss, drawing it out and wishing they were anywhere but lying in the snow. “You’re gonna catch a cold playin’ in the snow like that,” he chastised breathlessly when he pulled back.

Maria could hear the smile in his voice and it made her smile in response. “Guess you’ll just have to make sure I stay nice an’ warm, huh?” She raised one hand to push against his chest. “This stuff is kinda cold.”

They got to their feet and back on the path, dusting each other off as they looked around for their friends. They went in search of Max and Liz and found them without too much work, and they set out once again in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

Half an hour later the girls were huddled together, freezing, and just waiting to go back to the house. Michael glanced at Maria and frowned when she shivered. Deciding he had let Max obsess over the diagram long enough he snatched it out of his hands and tore it to shreds before handing it back to him. He turned and stalked off, walking over to the second tree they had looked at, declaring it perfect. “This’s the one we’re takin’.” He used the shovel to clear an area around the base of the tree and then motioned to it. “Go on.”

“What?”

Max’s expression would have been comical if it weren’t for the fact that Maria was freezing and they still had to get back to the snowmobiles. He could see the exhaustion on her features after the tiring trek to find the trees. The walk itself wasn’t that bad, but trudging through the deep snow was a tiring experience. He nodded at the saw Max was holding. “You think that thing’s just there for decoration? Get your royal ass under that tree and start sawin’.”

Max looked down at the saw and then at the tree. “Well… alright.” He dropped down and crawled up under the tree, contorting his body as he tried to figure out how the process would work best.

“Is it just me or is it getting colder?” Maria asked after 20 minutes.

Liz shivered and huddled closer to her. She couldn’t remember ever being this cold before. Against her will her mind shifted to a night that felt like a lifetime ago when she and Maria had been together with Alex after he had returned from what they had believed to be a student exchange to Sweden.

It had been cold that night, but not nearly this cold. They had gathered on her rooftop to hang out with Alex and she could almost hear Maria going on about the food and what would follow if it didn’t freeze. She felt the lump in her throat as her memory brought his voice to mind and she could almost hear him speaking as he gently taunted them in a way that was so Alex.

“Yeah, you know what? You guys are sissies, ‘cause after a winter in Sweden, this weather is downright balmy.”

Michael was gritting his teeth as he listened to the monotonous sound the saw made as the worn-down teeth chewed through the trunk of the tree at a painfully slow pace. He glanced at the girls once more and saw Maria wrap her arms tighter around herself.

“Just for the record,” Maria chattered, “I really, really hate Isabel right now.”

“Max, give it a rest, it’s my turn.”

Max’s muffled voice wafted up from below the tree. “What?”

Michael kicked his friend’s feet. “Max!”

He squirmed back out from underneath the tree. “Keep it up and we’re gonna be here all night, Michael.” He frowned when Michael crouched down beside him and when he saw him look around them and then hold his hand out toward the tree Max scrambled back out of the way.

The severed trunk groaned as it gave way to gravity and tipped back to fall on the ground. He crouched down beside it and ran his hand over the stump and the bottom of the trunk, shaving them so that tooth marks from the saw and a pile of sawdust was left behind as evidence.

“C’mon, let’s get this thing outta here.”

The two of them grabbed onto thick lower branches and gave it a pull to get started, hauling it behind them as they headed back to the closest path that would lead them to the barn. Maria was at his side, using him for a shield against the wind that would kick up from time to time.

“Remember what I said about you keepin’ me warm?”

“I’ve got it covered,” he growled in her ear.

The walk back to the barn seemed to take forever but as they finally stumbled into the clear area around the red structure Buckeye came ambling over to them. “Here, why don’t I take that for ya? I’ll get it wrapped and tied down on your sled so you can get goin’. It’ll be dark soon and you’ll wanna be back over to the Stevens’ place by nightfall.”

Michael didn’t bother arguing with him, releasing his hold on the heavy tree and ushering Maria toward the open door of the barn. At least they would be in out of the wind and she could have a hot drink to help her warm up before they had to make the drive back. It wasn’t long before Buckeye had them ready to go and Michael held Maria against him as he watched the other man securing the tree to the sled.

Maria nudged him when the owner of the tree farm approached them and she smiled at the man she had met earlier. “Hi, Carl.”

He nodded, turning to watch Buckeye for a moment before looking at them once more. He pulled one of his gloves off and held his hand out to Michael, smiling when the younger man shook his hand. “I just wanted to thank you all for your part in making Christmas on the Lake happen this year. It means a lot to us ‘round here.”

Michael shifted uncomfortably and forced a smile, nodding when Maria nudged him. He knew how to handle people who were rude or angry, but when it came to people who were sincere and simply wanted to express their gratitude he was clueless.

Buckeye came inside, shoving his gloves in his back pocket. “Y’all are good to go. You’ll wanna take it easy headin’ back.” He shook the guys’ hands and grinned. “We’ll be seein’ you.”

Michael nodded, trying not to think what came to mind but unable to stop it. “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” He snorted and took Maria’s hand, leading her out to the snowmobile and taking the drivers’ seat, smiling when she plastered herself to his back to soak up any heat and using him as a windbreak.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 29 - 4/18/11

Postby KindredKandies » Mon Apr 18, 2011 3:22 pm

Natalie36- Thank you!


keepsmiling7- Aww, thank you we enjoyed writing the girls trying to get back to being more of themselves in spite of their situation.

Showing up with the shovel just shows how much our gang or at least Michael plans for almost everything and anything, lol.

We know it is hard not to wonder what could happen to them...but sometimes things happen for a reason. ;)

Thank you. :)


Alien_Friend- Aww, thank you! We're glad you enjoyed their time out to the tree farm. We enjoyed writing it.


mary mary- Living one day at a time has its benefits, lol. We hope you'll continue to enjoy. ;)


Eva- We do understand their frustration and ours with Michael. For him though the stakes are high and he feels responsible and alone in his task. He also has confidence issues with his ability to keep them safe. Each day that they don't have a vehicle or a real way out if they should be discovered is bringing Michael to the edge. Something has to give, eh? ;) We hope you'll read on.....


Thanks for the fb, girl! Blow a kiss to Aron for me.


cjsl8ne- Yay! We were glad to see you pop in to say how much you are enjoying the story, thank you! No worries about how often you can come by, we so understand how RL can be. :) Here's your "more."



Part 29

Michael put the last of their gear away and turned to look at the 7-foot tree tied down to the sled and then back at Maria. She was huddled up against Liz, just waiting for the guys to be finished so they could go. There was no way he was dragging that thing so much as another inch. His intention had been to get back, drop off the tree, and head down to their cabin for some time away from everyone else but Maria was really cold and the house was a shorter distance to walk.

He reached for her hand as he neared them, tugging her along with him as he pushed the garage door open. He winced at the high pitched squeal it gave as it rolled along the track and hurried to put himself between Maria and the worst of the blowing wind. He left it up to Max to handle securing the garage and started the walk up to the house. It didn’t take long before he heard the other couple behind them and they hurried to the back door, stomping their feet as they crossed the porch.

His hand wrapped around the doorknob and gave it a turn. As he ushered Maria inside the warmth from the kitchen hit them along with the aroma of lasagna cooking and his stomach rumbled in response. He ignored it in favor of unzipping his coat, shoving his gloves in the pockets and turning to Maria. He brushed her hands aside, stopping her fumbling attempts to work the buttons on her coat and started to work on her outer gear. She was shaking from the cold, which worried him. Growing up in the desert he didn’t know much about cold weather but he knew enough to know it could be dangerous.

Michael grabbed the lapels of her coat and pulled her away from the door as Max and Liz went about ridding themselves of their outerwear as well. As soon as he had her out of her gear and he had haphazardly hung it up he pulled her up against his body, wrapping his coat around her.

Eddie was watching them with undisguised interest and after a moment of staring at Maria he turned to look at his mom. “Hey, Mom…”

Julia turned away from the stove to glance at their guests and she motioned to Eddie. “Go.”

Edward was following Julia around the kitchen as she worked, trying to be nosy and generally making a pest of himself. He and the boys had spent the afternoon plowing the driveways over at Mr. Tony’s place and then snow blowing the ice rink on the lake. Now he was just waiting for his favorite dinner to be put on the table.

Eddie ran back into the kitchen carrying a blanket. “Mom’s heating blanket,” he said with a smile as he walked past Maria. “It’ll warm you up.”

Edward was paying little attention to his son as he walked up behind his wife to look over her shoulder. He smirked when she swatted his hip. “Snow plowing 18 inches of snow out of Mr. Tony’s driveway and then snow blowing the lake has its price, woman.”

“Why don’t you go out and bring that tree up to the house so we can take a look at it,” Julia suggested.

“Well, it’s just in the garage. We can just go out there to…” he trailed off when she gave him that look. “Or I can just go and haul it up to the house.”

Michael made quick work of getting out of his outerwear, ignoring the conversation around him as he hurried after Maria. She had wasted no time following her young admirer and he nearly rolled his eyes when he saw the boy shaking the blanket out and preparing to drape it over Maria where she was sitting in the recliner they had occupied earlier that day.

“I’ve got that, thanks,” he said, intercepting before Eddie had the opportunity to tuck Maria in.

“M-M-Michael,” Maria chattered in an attempt to chastise him.

He just took her hand and tugged her to her feet with his free hand as he dropped the blanket on the arm of the chair. He took a seat and pulled her down on his lap, kicking the footrest out and reaching for the blanket, flicking his wrist to shake it open and draping it over her.

Maria sighed contentedly as his arms came around her and the heat from the blanket began to warm her up. She snuggled deeper into his embrace, resting her head against his chest and letting the reassuring beat of his heart lull her to sleep. Michael rested his chin on her head and closed his eyes, listening to Isabel’s voice as she and Dayna discussed something about decorations as they came into the kitchen.

He heard the back door open and shut several times before Isabel led the way into the living room, her attention now focused on the tree they had apparently just viewed. Her minions followed in her wake, Kyle wearing a look of shellshock and Max paying little attention to his sister as he picked the last of the bush particles out of his wife’s hair.

“So we have a tree,” Isabel was saying as she turned to look at her brother. “Did you use the diagram?”

Michael shifted slightly, his arms tightening just a bit around Maria as her shivering finally subsided. It felt good to hold her like this, to know that he had been able to take care of her and make sure she was warm. His eyes slid closed and he allowed himself to slip into a light slumber when the subject of the diagram came up because he wasn’t going to be responsible for his actions if Max ratted him out and told her the diagram had been decimated prior to tree approval.

*****

It was Maggie who came in to wake them up a while later, holding Miss Cindy and Cleopatra. “Mama says it’s time for dinner,” she said as she leaned on the arm of the chair.

Michael cracked one eye open to look at the trio and he nodded, watching the little girl as she scampered back to the kitchen at her mother’s call. He glanced down at Maria, sleeping in his arms so trustingly and he felt the familiar feelings of protectiveness and love wash over him. He ran his fingertip across Maria’s bottom lip, watching her as she made a face and burrowed her forehead against his shoulder.

“M’ria.” He drew her name out, his voice low as he teased her awake. “Hey, Maggie says it’s time for dinner,” he continued when she started to stretch. “We don’t have to stay though; I’ve got food for us back at the cabin.”

“Ooooh, the smell in here’s so wonderful though,” she murmured. “It’s Italian, Michael.”

He gave her a kiss on the forehead. “Yeah, I kinda knew I’d lose out on this one.”

As they walked into the kitchen they saw Isabel and Dayna coming up from the basement with Kyle following behind them like the dutiful and indentured servant… er, assistant, that he was. The two women were going back and forth as they debated the type of decorative birds to be used on the tree… red cardinals or white doves. Kyle looked like he was on the verge of a major case of whiplash as his head turned back and forth in an attempt to keep up with the tennis match of a conversation. He had that expression that anyone who spent much time with Isabel in planning mode eventually ended up wearing and it brought a smile to Michael’s face.

“Dinner will be buffet style tonight,” Julia said, her voice raised just enough to get everyone’s attention. “Grab a plate and come an’ get it. The drinks are in the fridge.”

“Mom, did you make fresh iced tea?” Eddie asked.

She winked at her youngest son. “Yes, honey, it’s on the bottom shelf in the fridge.”

Eddie hurried to pour himself a glass of tea, putting it on the table and leaving it so he could get in line for dinner. He never noticed it when his older brother knocked it over, completely missing it when Brian snatched up a paper towel to mop up the spill.

Brian squeezed the tea from the paper towel back into the glass, keeping an eye on Eddie as his little brother watched Maria fill her plate. He paused for just a second when he saw Michael glance at him but when the guy went right back to what he was doing he grinned and sopped up more of the spilled tea.

Kyle got into line next to Maria, doing his best to blend in and hide from Isabel and Dayna. His to-do list was getting longer by the minute and he wasn’t terribly thrilled to learn that his earlier agreement meant he would be up on a ladder the next day stringing lights on the barn and house. After a cursory tree inspection he had helped Edward load the tree into the bed of his pickup truck so it could be delivered over to Mr. Tony’s house the next day. He was sure they would spend the first part of tomorrow counting needles or branches or something, making sure the diagram had been followed to the letter. He had lost the fight to not roll his eyes when Isabel had informed him that at least he wouldn’t have to spray fake snow on everything like she had the year before.

“Dayna’s helped put Christmas on the Lake on for years,” Julia was saying as they began to take their seats around the table. She was so happy to have the crowd at the house for dinner. Things were looking up. Maggie was happy again and even her boys were more noticeably into Christmas. “She plans a Christmas parade, pancake breakfast with Santa, and the annual hockey shootout event.”

Isabel was giddy as she and Dayna approached the table with their plates, joining the others waiting to start the meal. “So after we check out the tree we can take that off of our list.”

Yep, he’d known there was more than that brief look earlier, Kyle thought. That was more like them having visual proof that a tree had been attained rather than the inspection that he knew it would be getting later.

“Tree’s fine,” Edward grunted. “And it’s already loaded for delivery tomorrow.”

Michael caught the older man’s glance at him and couldn’t help but give him a slight smile.

Way to go, Edward, Max thought.

Brian was watching his brother like a hawk as he munched on a piece of garlic bread. His eyes were alight with anticipation when Eddie reached for his glass. His brother was so dumb sometimes. He hadn’t even noticed anything different about his tea. His eyebrows lifted and he leaned forward without even realizing it as Eddie lifted the glass to his lips and chugged it. He laughed like a hyena, drawing his younger brother’s gaze, only getting louder when Eddie glanced at the glass in his hand and realized that Brian had done something to it.

Edward paused in the middle of cutting into his lasagna, clearing his throat just enough to get his boys’ attention. He gave them a look that immediately had them settling down although he knew as soon as he looked away they would be elbowing each other and making silent threats for whatever had caused the ruckus in the first place.

Maggie rolled her eyes at her brothers, clueless about the exchange between them and not really interested in understanding it. “Mama, can I put Cleopatra on Miss Cindy’s chair to eat her dinner?” Maggie paused a moment. “I mean… may I?”

“No, Maggie, she needs to have her bowl on the floor,” Julia answered with a shake of her head. “But you can put it over by Miss Cindy’s chair.” She glanced around the table as they watched the little girl carry the cat across the room. “I just want to say thank you to all of you for making Christmas for all of us this year.”

“Is this okay, Mama?” Maggie asked as she put Cleopatra down next to the bowl she had placed on the floor next to Miss Cindy’s chair.

Dayna was watching the little girl, smiling as she listened to Julia’s answer. She lowered her voice as she looked at the other woman. “So will Santa be bringing Maggie’s wish this year for a present?” She smiled. “She’s so good with Cleopatra.”

“Well, it would seem that Michael knows Santa and a couple of his elves. She drew a picture and has given it to him to give to Santa.”

Edward watched his Julia as she answered Dayna’s question and he smiled. Finally, a buddy to go hunting with. And it didn’t hurt that his Aunt Connie happened to breed Labradors, he mused.

Isabel smiled as her gaze settled on Maggie for a moment. “Yeah, the younger kids really make Christmas.”

Julia thought it odd that Isabel seemed to feel so old. The girl couldn’t be more than 18 or 19 years old.

The tall blonde watched the little girl as she fussed over the cat and her mind wandered to her best Christmases with her own family as a little girl. “Ya know what would be really fun?” she asked suddenly. “We should all share our favorite Christmas gift or memory.” The suggestion came with her perfect smile and eyes that shone with happiness. “So, Maggie, what was your favorite Christmas present?” she asked when Maggie joined them at the table once more, sitting to Maria’s left.

Maggie’s features were animated as she launched into her story, sharing her memory of her last Christmas gift. “It’s my book about a little polar bear who gets lost and helps Santa.”

Edward laughed out loud, catching the attention of his guests. It was the first time they had heard him laugh so openly. “How about the bike Santa brought you?”

“Oh, and my bike too,” she agreed with a nod. “It has a pink Hello Kitty basket on the front and a horn!”

Maria could feel Michael tensing up where he sat on her other side listening to Maggie share her story.

Dayna laughed. “Yes, I remember my little granddaughter Michelle got one just like it for Christmas last year too.”

Maggie’s face lit up with her excited grin. “Me an’ Michelle are best friends and we have the same bike!”

Isabel looked around the table and said, “Who’s next?” She made sure she looked at everyone and was just about to kick Kyle or Max under the table to get them to participate when Julia spoke up.

Michael glanced around the table, feeling his tension shoot up another notch when her gaze skimmed over him. She had to know that he had nothing to add to this funfest of holiday memories. He wondered where Kyle’s mind was as he sat between Isabel and Dayna. The poor guy had tried to escape their clutches, but when he had tried to sit next to him the Christmas Nazi and her twin had insisted that as their assistant and the keeper of the almighty planner he should sit with them just in case they came up with another idea. Kyle had been remarkably silent, not even cracking so much as a single quick-witted response since the question of favorite gifts or memories had been asked. The guy was withdrawing, which was just unusual for Kyle.

His thoughts were interrupted when Julia spoke up and as he listened to her story he realized she was trying to break the ice and put everyone at ease.

“My favorite Christmas was just after high school. My family was here, Mom, Dad and my grandparents. A certain boy who was going to sign up for the armed services after our summer visit showed up at the front door.” She shot a warm smile at her husband. “He had driven his truck from West Branch in a snowstorm and ended up in the ditch twice and had to dig himself out both times.”

Michael’s eyes followed Edward’s arm as he placed it on the back of his wife’s chair, the side of his thumb rubbing against her shoulder as she shared her favorite memory. His thoughts were a chaotic jumble; partly because he could relate to her story and partly because of his own thoughts it was bringing up, thoughts that he didn’t want to deal with.

“It seems my dad had taught Edward enough about construction that he reconsidered leaving for the military.”

Maria leaned into Michael and he lowered his head automatically as she whispered, “It’s sweet that he stayed for her.” As soon as the words were out of her mouth she felt a twinge of regret and she reached under the table to squeeze his thigh in reassurance.

Michael ignored her caress as his thoughts once more turned inward. Edward had stayed for Julia and she had stayed with him. He had stayed for Maria and she had left him. Yeah, he had forgiven her for all of that, but the forgetting part wasn’t so easy. It had made him wary and even now he worried over her snap decision to come with him. Trust wasn’t something he gave easily and it had been broken between them; rebuilding it would take time.

“Oh, I’ve got one,” Brian spoke up, drawing Michael out of his thoughts. “Eddie has a thing for shaking Christmas presents and then telling everyone what’s inside. So last year he was so sure he was getting a PS2…” he chuckled. “So the present was wrapped in a PS2 box but inside the box was another box and then another one until he finally got to the gift… and it was a Barbie house!” he howled with laughter. “It was hilarious! You shoulda seen the look on his face!”

“Santa got my present and Eddie’s all mixed up,” Maggie spoke up. “But me an’ Eddie switched.”

Michael smirked at the image of an 11-year-old Eddie staring at the box for a Barbie house with his name on it.

“Remember that princess outfit you got when you were like, I don’t know, 7?” Max asked as he looked at his sister. He glanced around the table. “She wasn’t just playin’ dress up, she went around insisting she was a princess.” He shook his head with a grin. “Thank goodness Santa didn’t listen when you told him I wanted a Peter Pan costume.”

“Never could quite figure that one out.” She chewed a bite of lasagna and swallowed. “You certainly had the ears for it.” She gave him a look of warning. “You’re getting off topic… tell us what your favorite Christmas or memory is.”

He grinned and laced his fingers through Liz’. “Ask me in another week or so.” His gaze locked with his wife’s, letting her know this year it was about her.

Ungh, gag me with a spoon, Isabel thought.

Maria wondered what she was going to say when the question inevitably came to her and she unconsciously reached up to brush her fingertips against her naked earlobe. She looked across the table at her best friend and noticed the look of discomfort on her face at being in the spotlight with her favorite Christmas. Well, considering the year before last Max had been haunted by a ghost and then last year he had been obsessed with someone else’s child, it wasn’t any wonder she wasn’t that comfortable with this line of questioning.

Dayna unknowingly stepped in and rescued Liz when she turned the question around on Isabel. “What about your favorite Christmas, Isabel?”

The statuesque blonde froze for a moment. She hadn’t been expecting the pointed question to come in her direction. She scanned her friend’s faces, slightly annoyed at just how much pleasure they seemed to be taking from her moment in the spotlight. Even Michael had a downright evil smirk on his face. She turned to Kyle who was now lounging back in his chair, balanced on the two back legs, arms folded across his chest as he looked at her.

“Yeah, honey, tell them about your favorite Christmas.”

Maggie spoke up before Isabel could say a word. “Mama told me she didn’t want me to fall backwards in my chair and when I didn’t listen I had a timeout.”

Kyle dropped his chair back down on all fours and winked at the little girl, making her giggle.

Without warning Isabel’s heart clenched tightly in her chest as her thoughts took her to a place she wasn’t prepared to go. She had missed the chance to spend a single Christmas with Alex, had let it slip right through her fingers. She lifted her head, her gaze moving past her friends and for the space of a heartbeat she could see him standing there. His kind gray eyes meeting hers as he whispered a silent ‘Don’t.’

Kyle saw the look on her face and he reached over to cover her hand with his, wordlessly bringing her back to the moment. He shifted back and wrapped his arm around her shoulders, gently pulling her closer to him. “C’mon, honey, don’t you remember? Our date at the bowling alley just a few days after Christmas when I proposed?”

Maria nearly choked on her garlic bread as she contemplated the growing list of unapproved lies. Across the table Max was having a silent fit as he tried to keep from bursting out laughing like a big donkey and further down the table even Michael managed the smallest hint of a smile.

“Yes, but technically that was after Christmas so that doesn’t count.” Her lips turned up at the corners. “I was thinking I might go with that Christmas in high school when we were putting on The Nutcracker and we were short a sugarplum fairy… and how you so graciously set your dignity aside and filled in.” She smiled at his dumbfounded look. “Not every guy could pull off that outfit and still retain his masculinity.” She reached over to squeeze his forearm as she gave him a warm smile.

He just gave in with a shrug and a smile. The things I do for her, he thought. Even in their imaginary past he put her first. Oh, well, there were worst things she could’ve picked out for their make-believe history. And at least it got him out of having to answer her question seriously. Now he had something to fall back on, something that would allow him to avoid the thoughts that led back to a part of his past that was just too raw at this time of the year.

Maria looked around the table, noticing that everyone had finished eating and now they were all just lingering over the conversation. She could feel the growing tension in Michael’s stiff frame, every new lie causing his muscles to tighten. He had started to relax earlier, but now that web of lies was getting more tangled and all he could see was the possible negative outcome if one of them tripped over one of those lies.

Michael couldn’t believe the conversation turn this dinner had taken. Fake bowling alley marriage proposals and Kyle in a pink tutu. He glanced at Edward when he shot a look at his wife and he could practically see the wheels turning in the man’s mind as he considered just how many teenagers sitting at his dinner table were married. It was time to end this stupid memory lane farce before one of them tripped over their stories since no one seemed to be sticking to his rule of only telling pre-approved lies. Nowhere in his layout of the plan had he mentioned bowling alleys or sugarplum fairies. He was just about to say something when Maria spoke up beside him.

“It’s been a really long day,” she said as she put her hand over his where it lay on the table and stood up. “Thank you for yet another generous and wonderful meal, but we really need to get our rest if we’re gonna be working on Christmas on the Lake tomorrow.”

Michael’s head snapped up, awed at her response. He gave an internal shake of his head as he stood up beside her, waiting for the others to say their goodbyes.

“Wait,” Isabel said, stopping them before they could begin moving away from the table and over to the door. “We can’t just leave you with the dishes.”

Kyle could feel the muscles in his back knotting up as he watched the muscles along Michael’s jawline tighten. He recognized the expression and knew it was only a matter of time before the tic started. Watching Michael overstressing was like standing on the track waiting for a train wreck. He drew in a cleansing breath and expelled it slowly along with a prayer for help that was answered rather expediently.

Edward spoke, his deep voice settling the matter of dish duty as he eyed his sons who had been misbehaving earlier. “Dishes are taken care of, right, boys? And Brian, you’ll mop the kitchen floor afterwards… with a mop this time.”

Brian shifted as he mumbled out a “Yes sir.” Nothing ever got past his parents!

As soon as they were cleared of any kitchen duties Michael wasted no time getting Maria to the door and into their winter gear. Nothing she could say at that moment would calm him down. Everything they had managed to accomplish earlier had just gone right down the drain and he was ready to blow. She just tried to keep up their cover, letting him rush while doing her best to ease it along and not make it quite so obvious, but she knew the best thing to do at that moment was to get him out of the house. Nothing was going to stop him from losing it this time and honestly she was surprised he had made it this far without a major meltdown.

Max let Michael’s heated glare bounce right off of him as he shrugged into his own coat before reaching for Liz’s and holding it out for her. He was grateful that Maria had her hand on the doorknob as they walked out so the Stevens’ didn’t have to purchase a new door since Michael would’ve likely pulled it right off of the hinges.

Kyle bent down to pull on his boots as Max was helping Liz into hers. “El Presidente, I think it’s past time for you to have a talk with El Capitan. He’s seriously overstressing and we’re past the point where it can be kept under wraps. Guy’s got the key and he’s ready to push the button, you know what I’m sayin’?”

Max glanced at him and nodded.

“Good. Why don’t you head out and I’ll make sure your queen and the princess are right behind you?”

Michael reached out to grab Maria’s arm when she tripped in the snow trying to keep up with him. She wasn’t used to walking slow in this stuff when there was plenty of light so walking fast after nightfall was like trying to traverse an unfamiliar obstacle course in the dark. They were nearing the first driveway that led to the cabins on the right when she heard footsteps coming up behind them at a fast clip.

“Michael, wait up,” Max huffed.

“Go home, Max,” he snapped, putting emphasis on the word ‘home’.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means a couple days here and you’re comfortable. You’ve already forgotten why we’re even here in the first place.”

Max shook his head hard and leveled his voice at Michael in the dark. “Hey, I know why we’re here. I’ve been right here with you for the last six months. But if you don’t calm down you’re gonna blow it for all of us.”

Light from the front porch of the house suddenly spilled out into the yard, breaking the darkness but still far enough away so that they weren’t cast in its direct light. The pathway was illuminated as well as the three bundled figures making their way toward them.

The constant pressure of shouldering the responsibility for their safety, the unnecessary guilt over a ruined engine that was no one’s fault, and the worry of discovery all boiled to the surface too fast to contain and Michael’s face twisted as he responded. “That’s great, I’m the one who’s gonna screw it up, huh?! Just where the fuck were you when Maria almost got ID’d by that cop who stopped her at that gas station?!”

“I was there, Michael! We were all there! You’ve let that day build up and you’ve blown that incident way outta proportion! I understand that it scared the hell outta you but she was never in any danger beyond what you perceived to be a dangerous situation! You act like you’re the only one with any concerns!”

Michael’s mouth contorted, his lips thinning out as he spoke, enunciating each word in Max’s direction. “You were there, huh?! How were you there?!” His arms jerked erratically as he gestured furiously. “You haven’t been with us since you put the crown down in Roswell. Maybe if that cop had stopped your doe-eyed bride your perception of the danger at hand would’ve been different!”

Max and Michael were toe to toe, anger rolling off of each of them as they shouted into each other’s face. Maria was getting their argument in stereo as she tried to get between them before it turned into a physical altercation. She finally managed to shove Max just enough to get in between them and she turned to face Michael.

“Look at me, Michael, nothing happened to me, I’m fine!”

His raging eyes fell on her. “Don’t you ever get between me and someone else in the middle of a fight!” he yelled.

Kyle wrapped one hand around Maria’s arm as he ran up to them, pulling her out of the middle and away from the guys.

“Kyle, let me go!” she demanded, only becoming more irritated with the situation when he released her arm to wrap his arm around her waist and physically pulled her away to safety. “He won’t hurt me!”

“No, he’d never hurt you intentionally, but he’s outta control and he and Max need to have this out.” He had just barely gotten her out of the way when Isabel caught up and lunged to put herself between them like she had so many times in the past. “Isabel, don’t,” he said quietly, insistently. “He’s beyond reason right now.”

Liz stood back, silently watching and waiting, knowing better than to get between the two of them. She winced when Michael went off on Max again.

“Now we’re boxed in like we were when the FBI had us surrounded that last day in Roswell only this time we don’t have a working vehicle! Maybe you’ve forgotten what that felt like, but I haven’t! I’m sittin’ here tryin’ to figure out how the hell to get us outta here and you and Isabel are busy skipping down Christmas memory lane! I didn’t need the king, Max! I never needed the king! I needed my friend.” His eyes bored into Max. “WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?!” He turned and stormed off, heading for the big frozen lake in the distance beyond the cabins.

Maria started to go after Michael but Kyle stopped her with four little words.

“He needs his space.”

She stopped with a heavy heart, knowing the truth in his words, but hurting for Michael and wishing she could do something to help him.
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KindredKandies
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A Tale of Two Christmases (Mature) - Part 30 - 4/25/11

Postby KindredKandies » Mon Apr 25, 2011 12:53 am

keepsmiling7 – Oh yeah, Spaceboy does need his space after losing it with Max.

Lol, Isabel and her tree diagram some things never change. So true, eh?

The favorite Christmas memory was a bitter sweet event......


Thank you! You were the only one to comment on this. We feel for Isabel and it was one of our bittersweet moments as well.

Well we had to have someone rescue Isabel from her sad thoughts, who better than Kyle? We love Kyle and are glad you found his make believe past for them funny. It was what Kyle was going for, lol!

Alien_Friend – We so agree, this confrontation was coming and we're glad that it's out there. This opens the door for some adjustments that could bring them some stability and lessen Michael's suspicious behavior that was calling too much attention to them and stressing all of them out.

mary mary –

God, shame on me, I almost missed this. By the time I got to this menu you were already down in the middle of the page.


No worries, lol. But thank you for the compliment!

So true, Michael is carrying a lot of weight on his shoulders. As far as wanting what Max and Liz have we don't believe that he relates to their kind of relationship as "soul mates."

Life has been hard for him; we believe he's a realist when it comes to relationships and people. We also know that he loves Maria and that she loves him and he has forgiven her.

A part of him understood why she left even though it killed him. (Her quest showed up when Billy came to Roswell, her music.) The thing that he didn't understand was how she could treat him so causally after making love to him. That hurt. Because she had to make a life-altering decision with a gun literally against her friends’ heads he can't be sure that she knows what she wants. All M&M need is a good heart to heart. We believe Michael knows this as well but has been too stressed about their safety to deal with it completely.

Author’s Note: A couple of lines in this part were borrowed from the Season Two Roswell episodes Viva Las Vegas and It’s Too Late & It’s Too Bad.



Part 30

Max stared at Michael’s retreating back until he disappeared from sight, feeling like someone had just dropped a ton of bricks on his chest. He had willingly given up his role as the king and he didn’t regret that. He hadn’t liked being responsible for making decisions that could potentially put any or all of them in further danger… or worse. He and Michael had locked horns over most of those decisions anyway, so why was he throwing that decision in his face now? He should be happy with that decision; he had what he wanted now. He was making the decisions and shouldering the weight of responsibility for all of them.

For the past six months Michael had made decision after decision and no one had challenged him. He rarely asked for anyone’s opinion, but on those occasions it wasn’t Max that he turned to. And now he was pissed off because no one else was taking the reins and making the decisions? He felt his own anger build in response to that thought.

“Maybe we should quit imitating ice sculptures and get inside out of the cold,” Kyle suggested as he bent to check his right boot, using it as cover to glance back at the house. Yep, sure enough, he could see a shadow standing at the window; Edward, ever the watchful protector. At least they were far enough away that he wouldn’t have been able to discern what their argument was about.

Their exit hadn’t exactly been subtle but he knew why Maria had been so quick to get Michael out of the house. He hadn’t been having a lot of fun himself, but his emotions weren’t likely to cause anything to blow up. At least they hadn’t so far, he mused. It had been a trying day and simply accepting that they had to wait around, with no escape options open to them wasn’t something Michael was handling well. Maybe if he’d had some time to decompress after that news this might have been avoided. But they hadn’t had that luxury; as soon as they had learned about the van they had spent more than an hour in a crowded Walmart, then it had been lunch, Christmas tree hunting, and dinner with a festive round of share-your-favorite-Christmas-memory. He was surprised it had taken as long as it had for him to lose it.

“C’mon, Maria. I’ll walk you to your place soon as Isabel’s inside.” He glanced at Liz, catching her eye when she looked away from her husband. ‘You got him?’ he mouthed silently.

She nodded with a slight smile and reached out to grab the pocket of Max’ coat, tugging to get him moving. She could see the anger in his eyes but below that the hurt was just waiting for its turn to be released.

None of them said a word as they separated and walked to the cabins. Kyle waited for Isabel to get inside and lock the door behind her before he and Maria started walking down to the little cabin furthest from the house. The only sound that could be heard was the snow crunching underfoot and the occasional creak as the snow-laden branches obeyed the command of the wind and shifted under their burden.

“Did you need some company?” he asked while he waited for her to unlock the door.

Maria turned to look at him, seeing the hint of strain around his eyes. Sometimes it was easy to forget that their situation got to him too. Kyle was so easygoing and he used humor to break the tension so often that they overlooked his feelings and forgot that he got stressed out too. Too often they took him for granted and she knew he allowed it, using it as something to gripe about from time to time to break the tension. Even now, when the stress was more visible in his features than he normally allowed to surface he was putting someone else’s needs first. She shook her head and smiled slightly. “No, but thanks for the offer, Kyle.”

He nodded and motioned for her to go inside, waiting for the door to close behind her and the lock to turn before he made his way back to his own cabin. His steps were heavy, but the snow had little to do with it. His mind was preoccupied; running from the past, treading water in the present, and staring into an uncertain future. He shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets as he rounded the slight curve in the driveway, following it until he reached the shoveled path to the front door of his cabin.

He pulled one glove off and fumbled for the key, cursing under his breath when it slipped through his cold fingers and landed in the snow. He shifted back and squinted down at the ground, heaving a relieved sigh when he saw it sitting up at an angle in the packed snow. He snatched it up and gave the lock another shot, shaking his head as he stepped into the cabin.

It wasn’t until he was shrugging out of his outer gear that he realized the cabin was quiet. The heat had been turned up a bit and the main room was starting to feel comfortably warm. The lights were off and Isabel was sitting at one end of the loveseat, her gaze locked on the wall in front of her. He maintained the silence as he went to his room and grabbed his things so he could go and take a shower.

He turned the water on, getting it as hot as he could stand it before stripping his clothes off and getting in under the spray. There wasn’t much room in the little stall but he couldn’t care less at the moment. Until the hot water ran out it was his little corner of the universe and no one else could intrude on it. No one but his thoughts, he realized as they did their level best to pick at the lock holding them back.

His eyes closed as he tipped his head back to let the water run over his face. His hands lifted to scrub over his cheeks, feeling the rasp of stubble against his palms. He let his mind wander back to a scene further back, a scene that was safe. He could remember his dad standing behind him, the bathroom mirror in front of them, as he showed him how to shave. He smiled slightly at the memory and without his permission his mind turned to last Christmas. Dad had been so lost, he thought. Was he doing better this Christmas? He wished futilely that he could see his dad; that he could see for himself that he was okay. He swallowed hard as he thought about never seeing his dad again.

Hopefully Dad hadn’t decided to try his hand at dating any other girls that had babysat for him when he was a kid. Maybe he would be having Christmas with Amy so neither of them would be alone. That would be nice. He had always liked Amy and he knew how much Dad liked her. It would sure beat Dad looking like road kill, wearing yellow rubber gloves, and shoving a head of lettuce up some unsuspecting turkey’s ass. He snorted at that thought and leaned forward to let his forehead rest on his fisted hands where they were braced against the shower stall.

Kyle thought about the fight between Michael and Max and shook his head. “What were you thinkin’,” he muttered under his breath, uncertain who the words were directed at. Some days he wondered what would happen if he just stood back and let the two of them beat the hell out of each other. Maybe it would be the best thing to just let them get it out of their systems. Sometimes he got sick of playing the mediator, trying to navigate their tempers, arguments, and silences.

He ran his right hand over his hair when the water began to cool. He snatched the shampoo up and hurried to wash his hair, hoping to get out before the water turned cold. He escaped the confines of the shower stall just as the hot water tank spit out the last few droplets of heated water. The heat from the living area didn’t reach into the bathroom and he shivered as the cool air hit his damp skin.

He hurriedly toweled off and pulled his sleepwear on, snatching up the hair dryer Isabel had tucked onto the tiny shelf behind the door. He plugged it in and ran the heated air over his exposed skin. He dried his hair, something that he normally wouldn’t bother with, but it was cold enough in the cabin that he wasn’t about to go to bed with wet hair.

Once he was finished and he had put everything away and cleaned up after himself he left the bathroom, leaving the door open on the off chance a bit of heat might sneak inside. He glanced at the bed and saw that Isabel had turned in and he walked out through the living area to get to his room. He tossed his things on the bottom bunk and lifted his head to stare at the top bunk with its cartoon dressing. As he stood there he felt something inside of him rebel at the thought of sleeping in a bed intended for a child.

“Y’know, Kyle’s too old for this,” he muttered under his breath. He crossed the room and reached up to grab onto the edge of the mattress, pulling it off of the bunk and dropping it on the floor. He rearranged it so that it was wedged into the doorway, putting it right in the path of the furnace so that the heated air would warm him when it kicked on.

Satisfied that he would make it though the night without freezing to death he rolled his neck along his shoulders, hearing the pops and cracks as tension was released. “Crap,” he mumbled as he stared at the sheets, “yippy ki yay blanket’s on Isabel’s bed.” He looked around and his eyes fell on the throw resting on the back of the loveseat. “Okay, a little bit small, but we can make that work.” He was crossing the space when he heard Isabel speak, her voice so soft, so quiet, that he almost didn’t hear her.

He cocked his head to one side, straining to catch what she was saying. He doubted she was talking to him, but her tone was conversational even though he couldn’t make out the words. Who could she be talking to? Her parents maybe? He knew how much she missed them and how much it hurt her to be separated from them, especially at this time of the year. He took another step to bring him to the loveseat and as he reached for the throw a single word reached his ears.

“Alex…”

The rest of her words were indiscernible but he knew whom she was talking to now. That knowledge brought another person to mind and he stomped on that door, forcing her memory to stay put. He snatched the throw off of the loveseat and stalked back to his room, getting into bed and curling his body up so that the little blanket covered him. He squeezed his eyes shut against the memories and refused to let them surface. He would not allow her to intrude on his thoughts. He sat up after several minutes and wrapped the throw around his shoulders, bringing his knees up and resting his forehead on them. He forced himself to focus on baseball, mentally reciting every stat he could think of until he eventually felt the pull of sleep begin to tug at him. I really need to get back to meditating. It was his last coherent thought as he curled up under the throw and sleep pulled him into its comforting embrace.

*****

Liz removed the last layers of her winter gear and hung them up on the hook next to the window. Beyond the windowpane the scenery was so tranquil, such a direct contrast to the storm brewing inside the cabin. She tucked the sleeve of her coat in between the wall and one of the lapels before stepping away from the precarious pile of clothing. Max generally didn’t lose it on the same scale that Michael could, but when he reached the end of his rope he tended to let everything out at once.

She moved back out of the way, sitting on the arm of the couch and gnawing on her bottom lip as she watched her husband. He wasn’t even aware she was in the same room with him as he jerked his winter gear off one piece at a time. With every item that came off he fought to keep it from falling on the floor, muttering about Michael and getting louder with each passing minute.

“I don’t get it,” he bit out as his right hand shot out, catching his coat and pinning it to the wall and rearranging it so that it remained stationary. “We’ve had more fights than I could ever hope to count about my decisions when it came to our safety.” He shook his head and his cheeks flushed red with anger. “I came to the same conclusion he did – all I did was make a big mess of everything so I did what he wanted. I gave it up. No more king, no more being in charge, no more calling the shots… if he wants to call the shots, fine, go for it.”

She could see the different emotions racing across his face as he leaned over and pulled his left boot off, slamming it down on the floor. Her gaze followed the small chunk of snow that came loose and went skipping across the room to land up against the rocking chair. She looked at Max when he started arguing with himself again.

“But do you think he was happy with that? Hell no! If I make the decisions I’m wrong. If I don’t make the decisions I’m still wrong! How am I supposed to know what I should do when no matter what I do it’s wrong?!” He jerked his right boot off and flung it down to join its mate. “And standin’ there tellin’ me we don’t understand the situation?”

Liz went over the argument, trying to pinpoint that remark and after a moment she shook her head. “He never said we didn’t understand the situation, Max,” she said quietly.

He turned to stare at her. “What?”

“I don’t really think this has anything to do with understanding the situation.”

He waved his right hand dismissively. “He stood right there and said I had no perception of the danger that day at the gas station! There was no danger! Michael could find a reason to think any situation was dangerous!”

“And if I had been the one the cop stopped to talk to?” She shook her head. “Would you have let it pass without a single thought that we had been discovered?”

“It’s not the friggin’ thought, Liz! He’s held onto it for months, obsessing over it and blowing it outta proportion!” He looked down when one of his boots fell over and he leaned down to right it. “He acts like he’s the only one with somethin’ to lose! Who the hell does – “ He glared at the boot when it stubbornly tipped to the side again, this time catching the edge of one of their coats and adding just enough pressure to upset the pile of outerwear weakly clinging to the overburdened hooks. He tried to catch the clothes as one by one they began to slide off of the hooks and after several tense moments he gave up and started throwing every item he could reach.

Liz watched him as coats, hats, gloves, boots, leggings and any other articles of clothing in his reach was thrown as far as possible.

“He’s never been alone in this thing,” he huffed. “Never! I wouldn’t do that to him.” He started to pace. “I know what it feels like to feel alone, carrying the weight of everyone’s safety. And as for knowin’ what it’s like to have someone you love more than your own life threatened… he doesn’t have exclusive rights to that feeling! I was there… I was in that fucking white room, I know!”

She listened to every angry word he spewed, knowing where a good part of it was coming from. His skin was stretched taut across his face, making his hard jawline stand out in stark relief. Her eyes lowered to his fists, watching them as they clenched and unclenched spasmodically. She felt that familiar calm come over her as she mentally went through the options available to her, debating what it would take to calm him down.

Liz walked over to her husband and placed her hand over his, waiting mere moments before his fist relaxed enough for her to slide her fingers through his. “Max, living in constant fear and being on the road the way we have been has done a lot to all of us. Have you considered that maybe Michael didn’t want the job of decisionmaker exclusively? It’s a lot for any one person, maybe too much. No ruler does everything alone. There are always advisors and others to bear part of the responsibility. There’s a reason for that.”

“When’s the last time you remember Michael asking for help when it came to making a decision?” he snarled. “He seems to find everyone else’s input more credible than mine.”

“Max, you gave up the throne, remember? We stood there and everyone looked to you for the answer. They were waiting for you to tell them what to do and you said you wouldn’t make the decision for everyone.”

“Michael wouldn’t have listened to what I had to say anyway, so what does it matter? He had already made his mind up about what he was gonna do. He was the first one to say how ridiculous it would be for us to take off together.” He gave a sharp shake of his head as he dropped her hand and crossed the room to stare outside. “He was ready to drop everything and leave. He was ready to leave Maria there.”

“I think we both know you’re just grasping at straws now,” Liz said as she sat down on the couch and picked up one of the little throw pillows. She held it on her lap, her fingers stroking along the edge.

“I wouldn’t have left you behind.”

She smiled slightly at the conviction in his tone even as an old pain surfaced. If it wasn’t for Michael you would’ve left me behind and left the planet with Tess. “You know he has his own moral code and whether or not we agree with it doesn’t matter. He didn’t grow up like the rest of us did; there wasn’t a decent adult in his life to show him how to act or what to do so he’s created his own system of right and wrong.” She could still remember going to Michael’s trailer and that creepy Hank looking her over like he was mentally undressing her. She felt a shiver race down her spine at that memory. And the way he had called Michael ‘Micky’, and made it sound like trash. “Putting Maria in danger violates that code. At the time he felt she’d be safer there than on the run with him.” She shrugged one shoulder. “They also weren’t together at the time. Can you imagine us being on the run as a group if you and I hadn’t been together when we had to run?”

That didn’t bear thinking about. Max stared out into the darkness, feeling the cold radiating out from the windowpane. “They’re together even when they’re not together.”

There was definite truth in his quiet statement. “You know if she hadn’t come he wouldn’t still be with us, Max.”

“No,” he agreed. “He would’ve taken off a long time ago.”

“Max, the two of you might fight over things, you might disagree over more than you agree on, but you need each other. That night when you decided you were no longer making the decisions for the group…” she bit her lip.

He turned to look at her, narrowing his eyes a bit when he saw the hesitation in her expression. She knew he wasn’t going to like whatever she was about to say and she was weighing her words. “Just say it,” he insisted.

“We had made it through everything up until that point with you guiding us and making the decisions. Michael reacts to things differently than you do; he’s a man of action and you’re the one who plans everything out.”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. What I’m saying is you knew when you made the decision to give up the throne that Michael would step in and pick up that slack. Someone has to make the decisions and consciously or unconsciously, he stepped in and took that on. He was your second in command on Antar; you relied on him when making decisions. You knew if we stayed together decisions would have to be made. We’re running for our lives and a wrong decision could mean being captured or killed; you didn’t want that responsibility any longer so you let it go because you knew he would take it on.” She was silent for a moment. “You know why you no longer wanted to make the hard decisions, Max.”

He swallowed hard as he turned back to the window, hearing her words echo in his head. “…a wrong decision could mean being captured or killed; you didn’t want that responsibility…” No, he didn’t want that responsibility any longer and he knew why. He didn’t trust himself to make the decisions. So many of his decisions for the past couple of years had led to disastrous outcomes. Tess… Alex… Zan… He squeezed his eyes shut as his failures rose up before him. She was right. He had known Michael would take over and handle everything; it was who he was. Michael didn’t know how to quit and he would do everything he could to carry the weight of responsibility until the bitter end.

He knew how much of a burden it was to shoulder all of that responsibility and to feel so alone and he had knowingly done that to Michael. It was too much for a single person to carry and he knew that. His mind drifted back to their last morning in Las Vegas and something Michael had said.

“Whoever sent us down here was smart, you know? Because they sent us together, and as long as we stick together, we’re gonna make it.”

“I need to talk to him,” he said finally.

The words had a ragged edge to them and Liz was fairly certain she knew what was on his mind. “Not tonight, Max.”

“Not tonight,” he repeated softly as he turned away from the window. “First thing tomorrow though.” He looked around at the mess he had made and he crossed the room to pick up the first glove he came to. He bit his tongue when his foot landed on the little chunk of snow that had come loose from his boot and the now melted snow soaked his sock. He froze for a moment and turned his head to the side when he heard his wife’s gentle laugh.

“If you throw one more thing, Max…”

He looked around the room once more and a little smile lifted the corners of his lips. “I’ll take care of this.”

“Do that.” She got up and tossed the pillow back on the couch. “I think I’ll be going to bed now.” She motioned to the clothing and boots strewn about the room. “You should hurry up though ‘cause I don’t know how long I’m gonna be awake.”

“Whatever,” he said with a grin, watching her as she turned and walked into the bedroom.

*****

Maria shifted over onto her side, craning her neck to look out through the window above the nightstand. She blinked owlishly and flopped over onto her back, her right hand stretching out to run her fingers absently over Michael’s side of the bed. She hadn’t bothered with the fireplace when she came in and the cabin was cold. She was exhausted after the long day; combined with very little sleep the night before and the tension from earlier she was just drained physically, mentally and emotionally.

Outside the wind picked up, blowing through the trees and she shivered at the eerie whistling sound. The branches of a tree nearby cast long shadows, creating strange designs that danced on the wall. Her eyes followed one that looked almost like a dog and she smiled faintly as she thought about the picture Maggie had drawn and given to Michael.

She shivered and rubbed her arms but she still refused to climb under the covers. She wouldn’t simply go to bed while Michael was outside. She had dozed fitfully a few times, her mind alert to any sound that might indicate he was coming inside, but so far he had stubbornly remained out of earshot. She wanted so badly to ease his mind; she knew how his mind worked and he would push the fight away. She had seen the look in his eyes when Max had warned him that he was going to be the one to expose them. Her chest ached with every beat of her heart because she knew how alone he felt in protecting them and to have Max throw that in his face had hurt.

There was some truth to his statement and they were all aware of it. Michael had been in hyper-vigilant mode for so long that he couldn’t just shut it off after a couple of days off of the road. Even if he could she wasn’t sure he would, not when his assessment of the situation led him to the conclusion that they were still in danger. The thought of failing them weighed heavily on him and she knew it could become crippling if he continued to shoulder it alone.

She sat up enough to check the clock for what seemed like the fiftieth time in the past hour. She had angled it so that the moonlight reflected off of the face the first time she had checked the time. The only light in the cabin came from outside and from the little nightlight in the bathroom. It was only getting later the longer she waited for him to come inside. She knew he was used to going off alone when he was licking his wounds and she also knew he wouldn’t go far. There were too many unknowns and he wouldn’t risk leaving her without knowing he could get to her if he needed to.

He had been gone for nearly two hours and she sighed as she turned over again. She shifted but couldn’t find a comfortable spot and until he was next to her she wouldn’t. “Michael,” she whispered, the soft words sounding like a shout in the silent cabin.

Kyle’s voice ran through her head over and over. “He needs his space.” She finally gave up trying to wait Michael out and rolled off of the bed, straightening her rumpled clothes as she shot one more glance at the clock. He’s had his space… two hours in the freezing cold is more than enough space. “Time’s up.” She paused at the window, the corner of the nightstand digging into her leg when she leaned forward to look outside at the big lake.

Her eyes scanned across the snow-covered ground, the pure white such a stark contrast to the black canvas of the sky. The moon above cast shadows across the lake and as her eyes began to adjust she saw one of the shadows separate from the others and shift just enough to draw her attention. She turned back to the bed, running her hands over the covers, twisted and wrinkled from her restless tossing and turning, straightening them out and smoothing them into order once more. She wanted it ready for their return. She stood back to observe her handiwork and found herself wishing it was so easy to erase the hurt she had put him through in the past.

She checked the clock once more and decided that two hours was way too long to be out in the cold. She pulled on her coat and boots, leaving the leggings that reminded her of a pair of padded overalls because she wasn’t going to be outside very long. She stepped out of the cabin and pursed her lips as she looked at the snow that rose on either side of the shoveled path. She kicked at the snow just enough to give her a ‘step’ up, hoping it was packed well enough that she wouldn’t sink with every step.

The snow crunched underfoot as she took her first halting steps in the deep snow, her boots sinking several inches before stabilizing and allowing her to push off for the next step. She made her way around to the back of the cabin and she paused as she searched the frozen lake before her. She moved closer, the moonlight illuminating the landscape and picking up the iridescent crystals embedded in the snow. The vast expanse of ice seemed to go on forever, stopping only when it reached the velvety black horizon that was pinned in place by a multitude of stars.

Her eyes scanned the frozen lake, her heart aching with the need to know he was there, to see for herself that he was alright. She drew in a sharp breath, the icy air momentarily freezing her lungs when her gaze locked on the lone solitary figure standing several hundred feet away, staring up at the night sky. She exhaled slowly, watching as the heated mist was captured and absorbed by the cold air.

Maria looked down at her boots and sent a silent prayer to the ice gods that they would keep her upright on the slippery surface. She took her first hesitant step onto the ice, watching closely for the many jagged edges that seemed to be everywhere. It was as if the waves had frozen so quickly that their form had been captured and frozen in time. Her eyes never wandered from each sliding step as she made her way across the ice in a cautious and painfully slow sliding walk.

She stopped maybe four feet or so from him and paused to take in her surroundings. It was a moment filled with breathtaking awe and she felt incredibly small standing on the icy terrain. “So much peace here,” she whispered to herself. Her heart lifted at the sensation of absolute stillness, the feeling that time here had slowed to a halt. The wind picked up for a moment and she closed her eyes as it brushed her cheeks and ruffled her hair, but in her mind the air that touched her was hot and instead of moonlight it was sunlight shining down on her.

In her mind’s eye she could see the desert surrounding her, outcroppings of rocks rising up around her. She could remember the fear that Michael wasn’t going to survive and the feeling of relief when he had found his way back to them. After finding his balance in the dreamplane Michael had hugged Isabel and shaken Alex’s hand and he had kissed her not once, but twice.

“If you had to do it, could you get yourself on a snowmobile and get outta here?”

Her eyes snapped open when his voice cut through the stillness, the quiet, raspy words crystal clear. She released a heavy sigh at the burden he carried.

“Maria?” His voice had deepened as he projected it to get her attention.

“I won’t have to do that.”

“You don’t know that,” he insisted.

She shook her head, feeling that she was a large part of his burden. “You don’t know that I will need to either, Michael. Look, we’ve gotten this far already. We got stranded and we were taken in by the Stevens family; they’ve fed us, taken us into their home and their lives in spite of our suspicious behavior, and no one’s turned us in.”

“That we know of,” he interjected, his gaze locked on the sky.

She shivered from the cold as she thought about something her mom had always said. Maria, I’m not particularly religious but I do know this: Things happen for a reason. Sometimes we just have to rely on faith to get us through. “All we can control here is taking care of finding a new vehicle and being watchful. The rest we’ll just have to rely on faith for it to work out because the truth is, we really don’t have control over any of it.”

He tipped his head just enough to watch her from the corner of his eye as his thoughts took him back to her mom’s kitchen and Amy’s battle with the garbage disposal. That had been an odd conversation but she had eased his mind and given him the answer he needed though she had never known it.

“Look, Michael, we’re both getting what we need out of this situation. And, sure, the disposal won’t always be around, but what if? Maybe tomorrow isn’t something to really worry about.”

“Maybe,” he muttered quietly, feeling his nerves settling just a bit between Maria’s words and the memory of her mom’s advice. He watched her for a moment, seeing the concern in her eyes and the slight shiver that shook her frame when the wind gusted. “We should get back inside,” he said as he took the few necessary steps to stand beside her. His hand rested at the small of her back as he nudged her to get her moving and as soon as she was mobile her hand slipped over his forearm to hold onto him. “You shouldn’t have come out here.”

Maria shook her head and carefully slid her feet along the ice. “You shouldn’t have been out here for the past couple of hours. Maybe you don’t get sick like the rest… like me, but being out in extreme cold temperatures like this for extended periods of time could upset your balance or whatever.”

“I’m fine,” he insisted, steadying her when her boots lost their traction.

Several minutes later they stepped into the cabin and Maria couldn’t help but notice how jerky his movements were when he pushed the door closed behind them. His ‘I’m fine’ hadn’t been all that reassuring. She stomped her boots on the rug in front of the door and moved to the thermostat for the wall heater to make sure it was on. It was but it wasn’t warm enough. Grandma and Grandpa built the cabin for more of a three-season retreat, she thought. The fireplace needed to be lit.

Michael reached for her with one shaking hand. “Come back here. Let’s get out outta that gear.”

Maria turned the lamp on next to the door and her eyes drank in his appearance. He was visibly shaking, his movements rigid and jerky and his dark eyes were dull with exhaustion. “I’m fine and I can handle my own gear.” She reached up to touch his face, frowning when she laid her hand alongside his cheek and she felt how cold he was. “God, you could get pneumonia. You’re super cold, Spaceboy, so don’t even go there with the ‘I can’t get pneumonia’, buddy. You’re the one that needs to warm up.”

She made short work of getting out of her coat and boots and even though her legs were so cold from not wearing her leggings outside she was grateful she didn’t have to take the time to get out of them. Her feet quickly ate up the distance to the cedar chest and lifted the lid, wincing at the creak of the old springs, pulling a blanket out and carrying it to one of the overstuffed chairs.

Moving back to Michael, she brushed his fumbling hands away and deftly unsnapped and unzipped his coat and the insulated bib overalls underneath. Once she had rid him of his outer gear she grabbed the blanket and placed it around his shoulders. She took him by the hand and led him to the chair in front of the fireplace where she gently pushed him back to sit down so she could help him pull his boots off.

Maria leaned back on her heels and looked up into his eyes. For just a moment she was back in her old room at her mom’s house on a rainy night when he had come to her and allowed her to take care of him. Her eyes scanned over his shoulders to make sure the blanket adequately covered him before she got up to carry his boots the few steps to the rug next to the door.

“I’ll get a fire going,” she said as she started to get on her knees to move the wood into the fireplace. Her head turned when Michael’s shaking hand landed on her shoulder.

“Lemme do that.”

She didn’t have the chance to get so much as a single word of protest out as he took over, pulling wood from the firebox and stacked it in the fireplace.

“Sit,” he ordered gruffly as he pointed to one of the chairs. He waited until she had complied and with a weary sigh he stretched his hand out, fingers splayed, and in mere moments a roaring fire was dancing merrily in the fireplace. Satisfied that it was good to go he moved back to his chair. He could feel the heat licking at his exposed flesh, could feel the burning sensation as the cold was slowly forced from his body. The real comfort wasn’t the warmth from the fire; it was the young woman next to him.

He felt as if he’d just gotten off of a merry-go-round at the park and could finally see where he was. He could hear Max’s voice begin to surface in his head and he pushed it down as deep as he could, distracting himself by running his eyes over the cabin. He blinked, bringing the room back into focus when Maria spoke, and he looked up when she stood and held a hand out to her.

“C’mere, it’s been too long of a day.”

His eyes traced over her features, taking in the firelight playing over her hair that was in disarray. As he looked into her green eyes, so dark and soft, he though back to his words to Max earlier. “Go home, Max.” He was too wary to look deeper into her eyes, still unsure of where their relationship stood. Regardless of that she was his home and always would be and his heart ached in his chest because he wanted so badly for her to come back to him.

Her hand slipped into his and he allowed her to pull him to his feet. He turned to wave his hand over the fire in the fireplace, banking it. He willingly followed her to the bed after she turned the lamp off by the door. He stood there while she began to undress him in the dying firelight, their eyes locked as they watched each other in silent communion.

“We’ve been on the road for so long,” she whispered as her fingers nimbly unbuttoned his shirt and removed it. “You don’t have to talk if you don’t want to. I’m here.”

His head moved just enough to indicate a slight nod and his own fingers twitched for a moment before his hands lifted and he reached for the hem of her shirt. He shoved every other thought from his mind and focused all of his attention on her as their clothing was disposed of piece by piece.

The moon shifted its position in the sky and its soft light played over their skin as they made love. Long slow kisses, lingering caresses, soft moans and breathy gasps punctuated their lovemaking. Every touch of skin on skin and every look between them only heightened their awareness of each other, driving their need higher. As their bodies melded into one everything else faded into the background, narrowing their world down to just the two of them.

Their gazes remained locked for several moments before they collapsed into each other’s arms, breathless, hearts pounding, and their body’s slick with sweat. He rolled to his side, facing her as he gathered her into his arms. His forehead settled into the crook of her neck and her arm slipped under his, her hand settling on his back to rub soothing circles against his rapidly cooling skin. It didn’t take long before she heard the telltale hitch in his breathing that let her know he was sleeping peacefully and the caresses against his back began to slow, her hand dragging lazily against him as she began to follow him into sleep.
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